- Movie Rating -

‘WandaVision’ is a tasty, if baffling, little MCU treat.

| January 16, 2021

WandaVision is a new nine-part series premiering today on Disney+.  This review covers only the first two episodes.

How did the song go?  “There’s something happening here.  What it is ain’t exactly clear.”  That’s pretty much the feeling that you get from WandaVision, a sometimes clever and sometimes baffling new nine-part series that has the distinction of being the first MCU entity brought exclusively to Disney+.  It’s a bit of a mindbender, taking two mid-level characters from the Avengers (one of whom is, by this point, dead) and placing them in the black and white 1960s Formica world of the classic American sitcom.  Why?  There’s the rub.

The set-up in the premiere is kinda cute, playing with a tasty homage to classic television – an imagined sitcom world that might just as well have paying in heavy rotation on Nick at Nite.  Wanda and Vision (Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany) are a happily married sitcom couple newly arrived in the township of Westview who do their best to hide their respective oddities from nosey neighbors.  He’s a living machine, “I’m a regular carbon-based employee” and she’s a happy homemaker with mind-powers who can change her clothes in a snap but somehow can’t do the same to make an elaborate dinner for Vision’s ha-rumpf boss Mr. Hart (Fred Melamed).

It sounds like a cute parody, and it is.  The first two episodes pay loving tribute to first “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and then “Bewitched” and the homage works even though the function of this set-up tends to run hot and cold.  The design work here is key, particularly the camera set ups, the (intentionally) wonky special effects and, of course, the canned laughter.  The second episode moves into the 1960s with its outdoor settings and more daring TV permissiveness – Wanda wears pants, and the couple sleep in the same bed *gasp*.

What is happening here?  Why are Wanda and Vision starring in old monochrome TV sitcoms?  Well, that’s a puzzle and if you are easy on the premise, the reward is an even more appetizing sleight of hand.  At regular intervals, the laugh track goes dead, the camera angles change and the mood goes dead serious.  Something wicked this way comes, and it arrives in dribs and drabs though the writers are very clever at only hinting at what that might be.  These moments break the spell of the monochrome sitcom and the real mystery behind WandaVision begins to unfold.  Even if you are savvy enough to guess what might be going on, the show is tricky enough to keep you guessing.  Even if you’re right – why is it all taking place in a TV sitcom.

Those are questions to be answered later.  What will be discussed by viewers will be the production, but what will be overlooked are the performances.  Elizabeth Olsen, in particular, is very good here.  In the first episode she beautifully channels Mary Tyler Moore’s Laura Petrie and her knack for being a safety net to her husband.  And in the second, she switches gears and channels Elizabeth Montgomery’s befuddlement of living in a world between reality and witchcraft.  This is a heavy load to dump on an actress but she balances it beautifully.

Speaking of balance, it is nice to finally see the romance bloom between Wanda and Vision that was only hinted at in the Avengers series.  And I’m not the first critic to note how gratifying it is to see Paul Bettany get back to the fun, comedy roles that we were promised by A Knight’s Tale.  It was nice to see him as the smartest guy in the room, but here it is even more fun to see him as the goofy sitcom husband.

WandaVision is somewhat difficult to assess based on two episodes since these first two installments only give you hints of the things to come.  But the creative team behind the MCU have always been willing to experiment and try things that could easily fail.  They are willing to take chances and this series may be their chanciest trick of all.  Whatever they’ve got up their sleeves, they’ve laid the groundwork for something new and definitely different.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2020) View IMDB Filed in: Action