In September 2020 the teaser trailer for WandaVision was released – the first television show within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Within this teaser it displayed to audiences what they could expect from the entry into the world of television for the MCU. Simply, WandaVision appeared to be a weird sitcom set across multiple decades following none other than Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany). This teaser had a flurry of decade-switching visual aesthetics and a bizarre hyper-exaggerated husband and wife combination between Wanda and Vision. Laid on top of all these goofy sitcom visuals was also an unnerving sense that something was just wrong. The reaction from most audiences was an irreverent “I don’t get it”. Well, little did audiences know, they’d be having that same reaction by the conclusion of each episode, over and over again.
WandaVision is a sitcom, but also, it isn’t. Like many of the projects within the MCU that Marvel Studios has built, WandaVision is attempting to hybridize various genres so their stories can work within them. This miniseries is primarily within the drama and mystery genre – keeping one foot out the door and borrowing from various others, most predominantly the sitcom genre. If you’re a fan of the Marvel films and you go in expecting weird sitcom antics and a relatively conservative plot-twist, you’ll probably find WandaVision to be a great addition to the MCU’s new saga – given you don’t mind a few episodes of corny humor in black and white. Going into WandaVision with grandeur expectations of weird and wild happenings similar to the likes of Twin Peaks would be a grave misstep; this isn’t that kind of show.
Due to WandaVision releasing episodes on a weekly basis it had a tendency to make audiences’ heads spin and cause mass theorizing. Within the first 7 episodes few real answers are given to audiences that they can’t already stitch together themselves, instead much of the show spends its time focusing on whichever specific sitcom decade or style it has chosen. Make no mistake WandaVision does eventually provide answers to the largest and most important questions, but much of these answers are given throughout various exposition dumps toward the end of the series and some of the more minor questions still remain fuzzy.
What WandaVision gets wholly and entirely right, was Wanda. There was a period throughout this series where true character development felt minimal; as we were spending vast quantities of time with a sitcom version of Wanda that did not fully represent her emotions. Thankfully in the latter half the series Wanda gets focused screen-time that allows her to be greatly fleshed out as a character and elevated to a level where audiences can understand her internal dialogue a little better. Perhaps this series greatest success is that it takes the Wanda Maximoff character and forges her into the Scarlet Witch; which is precisely the sort of development these miniseries should be providing – further depth and development into characters we don’t often get on the big screen.
Much of this show is carried by its quirky and off-beat performance by Elizabeth Olsen as well as a fun and rambunctious role by Kathryn Hahn. Olsen wields great control over her varying personalities and versions of herself she plays throughout this series. Whether she’s fun and goofy, broken and empty, or downright furious; Olsen is required to do a lot on-screen and do it often without losing the audience’s attention; she succeeds. Kathryn Hahn also does something a little similar and even manages to outshine Olsen at certain moments throughout the series – her charm and popularity as a character has potentially solidified herself for future roles. Paul Bettany admittedly does not reach the level of these two ladies, but still expands upon the Vision character in emotionality. There’s a slew of minor characters to cover from Teyonah Parris, Kat Dennings, and Randall Park – there really isn’t much to say other than these characters and performances were about as Marvel-esk as you could possibly imagine; not much depth, intrigue, or purpose behind any of them being included in this series.
The fundamental flaws that WandaVision exhibited ultimately lied in excess and ambition. Let’s tackle excess first. The problem that WandaVision had here was with its excessive inclusion of minor characters – many of these minor characters ate through screen-time while providing little relevance to the overarching plot or even to the development of Wanda as a character. As for ambition; there was a major issue with editing throughout this film as the writer or director clearly believed they could wrap up multiple storyline threads for multiple characters within two episodes, they did not succeed at this. Ambition also lies in this TV series excessively large battle sequences that felt greatly unnecessary and the attempt to set up the origin for a different character on the side (Monica Rambeau) – all of this culminates in what I can only describe as messy. This show had problems in strange places, but again, it got the most important thing right, Wanda herself.
One of the visual elements of the series that should be discussed is how the exploration through TV sitcom history is portrayed. Capturing the essence of TV history is certainly a hefty task but the series has clearly drawn inspiration from specific shows which ties back into the character narrative. While there is some inconsistency with how the show progresses through these decades of TV history, whenever the style of a particular TV era is implemented – it is authentic and completely convincing. Camera movement plays a key role in making the TV era it is aiming to portray whether that be zooms, static shots, freeze frames or simply having a live-audience present. The aspect ratios even change as the show transitions through the sitcom decades with the show eventually using the usual 2:40:1 ratio of the MCU normally used.
While the portrayal of TV sitcom decades are completely convincing, we can’t say the same for the visual effects. Comparing it to relative TV shows, WandaVision aligns with the quality of them rather than the grander TV shows that hold large budgets such as Game of Thrones or The Mandalorian. It is important to consider that the show holds a $225 million budget ($25 million per episode) making it the most expensive TV show of all-time. As such, WandaVision should look like this but unfortunately, it doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of a show like the recent The Mandalorian. The series finale features multiple battles where a lot of the visual effects felt jarring and out of place, which definitely took me out of the episode at times. We know that Disney and Marvel Studios are putting big money towards these Disney+ shows to make them feel like they are a part of the MCU and we can say that this was accomplished with WandaVision; however, there is definitely room for improvement.
It’s tough to argue the best aspect of the film but production design plays a key role for the film which production designer, Mark Worthington, executes set-designs for multiple sitcom era’s spanning across decades. It seems apparent that Worthington has done his research as each set is entirely convincing for its era and remains consistent beyond this. The impressive work done by Worthington and his team extends beyond set-design and more-so into the detailed background prop work going on. In fact, the background details have become a focal point for fans to scrutinize each background – seeking out clues for what comes next.
With the story of WandaVision being told across multiple decades starting from the 1950’s through to the present day, we were introduced to musical scores from each of those eras which generates a fun and refreshing touch from the usual MCU score pieces we have been accustomed to over the years. Each episode has not only a unique score but also a sound design aspect which helps establish the feel of each decade in which the episode is set in.
During the latter episodes the show makes the decision to stray away from the decade sitcom storytelling aspect and the score for WandaVison starts to become more intertwined with the generic MCU based scores that we are accustomed to where it utilises a more orchestral piece rather than branching out and trying to make this show a unique part of the Universe.
An aspect that is also lacking throughout WandaVison is a main theme for the titular characters, which is never truly felt. Previous major faces of the MCU had strong musical cues that were used often and represented the character fittingly. We can assume that Wanda will become a major piece in the MCU and one would expect for this show to debut a musical piece for Wanda Maximoff that resonates with the audience and can be easily associated with the character.
WandaVision is a beautiful escape from reality, a dive into an ocean of static that is full of tantalizing production value in its sets, costumes, hairstyling, and makeup – but most importantly it delves into the character of Wanda Maximoff and brings her to life like never before; even if the road to getting there is a little bumpy.