In Spring of 2020, known colloquially as ‘lockdown one’, I set about correcting my woeful pop culture knowledge by watching all 23 Marvel Cinematic Universe films, most of them for the first time. With that joyous task well behind me, I am now over the moon that we finally have some new MCU releases coming our way. So My Marvel Diary will continue, reviewing each new chapter of the MCU as it arrives.
MCU Phase: Four
Creator: Jac Schaeffer
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn, Fred Melamed, Debra Jo Rupp, Teyonah Parris
So, after the first year without any new Marvel content in a long while, we’re back. With WandaVision, we not only have superhero content after seemingly being starved of it, but we also finally have the first proper, official MCU television series. I will dispense with my usual early-article waffling and get to it: WandaVision is good. It’s worth your time. It promises exciting things for the MCU. It’s enjoyable in its own right. Kevin Feige and his minions have, it seems, done it again.
At least, that’s what we can say based on the first two instalments of this nine-episode series. It’s been created by Jac Schaeffer, who is also a writer on the much-delayed Black Widow, and is best discussed when split into two main parts. First, there’s the sitcom-style approach that Schaeffer and team have gone with for this. From the trailers and posters we knew that the show’s concept involved jumping around many different eras and dropping Wanda Maxmioff (AKA Scarlett Witch) and Vision (formerly Tony Stark’s AI J.A.R.V.I.S.) in various sitcom set-ups.
I’d say for around 90% of these first two episodes that idea is served straight-up, with no galaxy-saving antics and not a villain in sight. Instead we get something that not only warmly riffs on sitcom conventions, but revels in them to the extent that WandaVision functions pretty well as an actually quite funny sitcom. The idea of two super-powered beings living in suburbia is an inherently funny one, and the writers make good use of it with numerous witty one-liners about Vision’s robotic body and Wanda’s telekinetic powers. There’s good support, too, from Kathryn Hahn and Debra Jo Rupp amongst others, whilst Teyonah Parris first appears as a character called Geraldine. We know, however, that Parris has been cast as Monica Rambeau, last seen as a little girl in Captain Marvel.
Which brings us to the other 10%, where all the intrigue lies. Just the knowledge that it exists is enough to keep the sitcom aspects gripping even in the most seemingly mundane moments. Throughout both episodes, but mostly in the second, there are small elements that pull us out of the cleverly crafted reality Wanda and Vision occupy and remind us that all is not well. There is a brilliant sense of fragility to their world, and as time goes on it becomes more and more clear that the pair seem to have very little control over their lives. Extra praise must be given to a brilliant scene that drops a full-colour object into a mostly black-and-white show. It throws Wanda, and wryly suggests that the pair are actually living in black-and-white, fully consumed by their illusion.
There are a couple of things that stood out as quite important in these two episodes when it comes to piecing together the wider plot. Skip this paragraph if you want to avoid spoilers, by the way. By the end of episode one we know that somebody is watching the ‘WandaVision’ TV show. This confirms the basic theory that their reality is constructed and controlled, or at least monitored, by someone else. Then in part two things get more exciting as Wanda’s voice is called out over the radio. It sounded like Steve Rogers to me, but I could be wrong. Either way, it is strongly implied here that somebody is trying to save Wanda from whatever she is trapped in. Then there’s the late suggestion that the nefarious Hydra are involved, plus the appearance of a scary beekeeper that means nothing to me. Honestly, I haven’t a bloody clue what’s going on but I sense it is Something Very Important.
It’s worth reiterating how enjoyable WandaVision is just as a kooky Marvel sitcom. The first episode has barely any moments outside of the TV show conceit, and is a breezy, fun 22 minutes. The sets and costumes are a delight, too, taking in the 50s and 60s in these early chapters. But Schaeffer and Marvel as a whole are smart enough to know that this novelty charm can only last so long. By the end of the second episode there’s the sense that the wider MCU elements of the show are really going to start kicking into gear next week. Can’t wait.