Review | WandaVision
NOTE: This review contains spoilers.
When Spider-Man: Far From Home drew the curtain on Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe back in the summer of 2019, nobody could’ve predicted the changes needed to be made both in the entertainment industry and in our own lives. Originally scheduled to be released third in the next array of offerings from the studio behemoth, a re-jig of schedule placed WandaVision in the limelight, kicking off a post-Thanos era in the superhero franchise. Releasing not one but two episodes on January 15th of this year, and an episode weekly thereafter, a smaller-scale TV show centred around Wanda Maximoff and her synthezoid would-be husband Vision was a welcome distraction from the current hellscape that is the outside world (and a lack of ability to leave our front doorstep).
Appropriate then, that WandaVision centres around a finite physical space in which its inhabits are unable to leave their town of Westview past a certain point. A mere three weeks after Iron Man successfully snapped everyone back into existence, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) are living a seemingly idyllic life as newly-weds in New Jersey, travelling through decades worth of sitcom homages and tributes from The Dick Van Dyke Show to Malcolm in the Middle. So how did they get here? Who are the other occupants of the town, particularly next-door neighbour Agnes (Kathryn Hahn)? And why, after dying at the end of Infinity War, is Vision alive at all?
The answer lies not so much in how they got there as in why. From the get-go, it is obvious that Wanda’s powers are to blame for turning the modern, if incredibly depressed town of Westview into a shrine of 50s-00s sitcoms, but what is not clear is the extent to which she is in control. Initially, it’s seems to be not at all – in just the second episode, “Don’t Touch That Dial”, Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), attempts to make contact through the Hex she’s created by dialling into a radio, asking her, “Who’s doing this to you Wanda?”, insinuating a larger force is at play.
And it is, in a sense, for Wanda is (almost) completely control of what is happening to this town. Although unable to remember, the grief at her extreme losses in life (her parents to a Stark missile, her brother, Pietro, to Ultron and finally, Vision to Thanos) has become too unbearable for her body and her powers to repress, unleashing themselves in fury to create Vision, or as close to Vision, from scratch. In the highly emotional and beautifully written penultimate episode, “Previously On”, Wanda explores the moments in her life that define her, a therapeutic process in which she discovers much more about herself and her abilities than we’ve come across since her introduction.
Due to the nature of films in the MCU and the high cast count they warrant, it’s been hard for both Wanda and Vision to develop in the way, say, Tony Stark or Steve Rogers have, which can be detrimental and frustrating if you have such high-calibre actors as Olsen and Bettany. What they do in the nine episodes they have been given on Disney+ is a remarkable achievement for both parties (deserving of nominations come the Fall) and an important reminder that they are not to be taken for granted in the larger-scale of this world.
Broadly speaking, the show is excellent, but not without its (minor) issues. The re-casting of Pietro, from Aaron Taylor-Johnson to Evan Peters, whilst not an issues in quality, is a bit too far of a tease for fans. It’s hard to understand why, when a fanbase such as this would inevitably come to conclusions that the Quicksilver from Fox’s X-Men franchise somehow worm-holed his way into the MCU, ended up being an in-joke for those in the know. It’s a rare misstep for an otherwise carefully planned universe.
Hahn’s Agnes, revealed at the end of episode seven (“Breaking the Fourth Wall”) to actually be ancient witch Agatha Harkness is also initially compelling but ultimately unclear; similarly with Peters’ Pietro, the problem is not in quality (in fact, Hahn is a highlight of the entire show and deserves the recognition she’s receiving) but in its unfurling – revealed with a banger of a tune, “Agatha All Along”, written by Oscar-winners Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, we’re led to believe she manipulated Wanda into creating the Hex, only to be told one episode later that she was drawn to its power.
Small quibbles aside, it’s not hard to see why WandaVision became water-cooler television for almost two months. Pushing the boundaries of what superheroes can do on a small screen and an elegantly constructed meditation on what grief can not only do to you but to those around you, it’s an incredibly strong and emotionally moving start to a new phase for Marvel.