There's always been, and always will be, a particular subset of movie-goers and cinema aficionados that exit the dimly lit theatre with apathy and dissatisfaction, berating Hollywood for not taking enough creative risks, sticking to a set blueprint of proven techniques instead of pushing the boundaries of genre and storytelling. While some of that cynicism is a tad unjustified, there is some truth to be extracted from it too, and now that superhero movies are all the rage these days, a growing number of fans have been waiting for someone to experiment a bit with the format, and the characters.
Queue in WandaVision. But before we do that, let's take a second to remember, that Marvel has promised edgy genre experimentation with their mainstream MCU movies. Scott Derrickson was specifically hired to make Doctor Strange a horror-esque cinema experience, and Thor Ragnarok was initially described as a buddy road movie. While elements of that were in each of those two films, they certainly did not stray too far from the very established franchise roots. They were superhero movies after all.
WandaVision, the very first high-profile television series from within the MCU is not a superhero series, at least not yet, and the fact that it isn't is refreshing in and of itself. If you've watched the two first episodes already, you'll know what I'm talking about. The almost David Lynch-inspired topsy-turvy take on the 1950's and 1960's sitcoms is something the series dedicates itself entirely to, only momentarily straying from the very distinct style and feel.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Time for a summary. WandaVision seemingly takes place after the events of Avengers: Endgame, but how that's possible remains to be seen. Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch, and The Vision, are a married suburban couple in the breezy town of Westview, keeping their respective powers a secret from nosy neighbours, and getting into all sorts of sitcom-esque hijinks, such as a talent show and having Vision's boss home for dinner. But during the first two episodes, which jumps from the 50's to the 60's for no discernible reason, Wanda begins to suspect that not everything is as it seems.
And that's it. No big bad villain - yet. No world to save - yet. No spectacular set pieces - yet. For its first two episodes WandaVision is all about sitcoms with tacky jokes, canned audience laughter and timely themes. There are a few hints that something deeply troubling is bubbling below the surface, such as a toy helicopter suddenly being coloured, in spite of the black/white aesthetic, and a deeply weird encounter with Vision's boss choking on a piece of steak. Again, some of David Lynch' short-film work springs to mind, with suburban existentialism paving the way for the unsettling, or even the paranormal. But that's all for the episodes later in the season. For now, it's all set-up and no punch-line.
While it is jarring to watch two episodes of sitcom in 2021, you really do have to respect WandaVision for having the sheer courage to walk the line with its unique premise, and walk it it does, big time. It's clearly Marvel's most risky project to date, and not only that, it does prove that superheroes can do all sorts of things on-screen, not just punch robots in Sokovia.
Both Elisabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany are simply fabulous too. They do seem deeply involved with their respective characters, and it's clear that director Matt Shakman and creator Jac Schaeffer truly got both on board to give this entirely different concept their all, and they do. Particularly Bettany seems to be enjoying himself big time.
I really enjoyed the first two episodes. They are excellently shot, with clever homages to their respective eras in television, and both the cast and crew worked wonders with each scene, creating both unease and even comedy at times. What matters now, however, is how the sitcom base makes way for more traditional superhero structures and tropes. I deeply hope the series maintains its weirdness factor, its dedication to its core idea, and let us linger in Lynchian dystopia a bit longer, before it's once again about... you know, punching people. For now, this is an excellent start, if not demanding of its viewer to be patient. WandaVision is not for everyone, and that's exactly why it's great.