REVIEW: "WANDAVISION" ON DISNEY+
"WandaVision" certainly gets points for boldness and ambition. It hadn't been intended as the first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) project to appear after more than a year-long hiatus, which might explain why Disney executives and Marvel chief Kevin Feige were willing to take a risk on such an unconventional concept. (The films "Black Widow" and "Eternals" were meant to open theatrically in 2020 and close the gap between the MCU film franchise as the Disney+ shows.) As it turns out, we're now kicking off the franchise's fourth phase with perhaps its oddest entry yet, a send-up of classic sitcoms with a sci-fi twist at its core.
When we last saw superpowered Wanda Maximoff (Elisabeth Olsen), in "Avengers: Endgame," she was joining her superheroic colleagues to defeat the interstellar warlord Thanos while mourning the loss of her boyfriend, the superpowered android Vision (Paul Bettany). As you'll recall, Vision had been destroyed on-screen by Thanos in the prior film, "Avengers: Infinity War." As "WandaVision" opens, however, the duo have been mysteriously reunited and married off-screen, and transported to the idyllic suburban community of Westview. The sudden (and never remarked upon) return of Vision is not all that's strange and even inexplicable; Westview is clearly not authentically real, but exists in an ever-shifting sitcom universe. In the "WandaVision" pilot, it resembles a black-and-white '50s sitcom, but we've jumped to the 1960s and "Bewitched" influence by Episode 2; there's every indication that future episodes will continue barrelling through the TV aesthetics of the late 20th Century.
The show and performers' commitment to recreating these classic sitcom styles are admirable. Both Olsen and Bettany are gifted comic actors who ably slip on these vintage personas, and supporting player Kathryn Hahn -- co-starring as a chatty neighbor who clearly knows more than she's letting on -- feels legitimately plucked out of an actual old-timey show. The effect is uncanny.
And yet "WandaVsion" itself never feels fully committed to its own conceit. It's a sitcom in name only, one that's far more invested in tying everything into the MCU films and winking at the audience through constant in-jokes, references and Easter Eggs than actually investing in its quirky world of Westview.
Ideally, I think "WandaVision" needs to work on two levels at once if it's going to work at all. We have to wonder about what's REALLY going on, and remain compelled and intrigued by the underlying conceit, of course. (Where is Wanda? Is this all in her mind, a way of working through her trauma? If not, how is this being done to her? What do the people holding her here want from her? Why classic sitcoms? And so forth.) This material is pretty well-handled, overall, and at times reminded me of a well-plotted episode of "The Twilight Zone." There are enough 'clues' to keep you in the game, without feeling like there's no more mystery and you've put all the pieces together.
But there's that other level, too, and despite the actors' commitment, "WandaVision" doesn't really work, just taken on its own merits. Some of the jokes are funny but I'm not sure this ever gets passed feeling like a gimmick. It's a parody of sitcoms, but it's not actually a sitcom. Even after just two episodes, a certain kind of repetitiveness has already set in.
I'm told Episode 3 moves things along in a considerable and significant way, which will maybe upend this take after another week or two, and I'll certainly keep you all updated. But it seems to me that this kind of experimental genre mish-mash works best if all of the genres being mish-mashed play well together, and the emotional investment in one doesn't have to be compromised for the sake of the others.
Where to Watch: Disney+
Episodes: 9 (2 so far)
Running time: About 30 minutes each