“WandaVision” leaves Marvel fans “Wanding” more

The hit show WandaVision premiered on the streaming service Disney+ in Jan.

Wikipedia Commons

The hit show WandaVision premiered on the streaming service Disney+ in Jan.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has enjoyed quite an impressive track record throughout its nearly 13 year run, releasing critically acclaimed hit after hit with even the less than stellar projects in its arsenal being only “average” at worst. Despite Martin Scorsese’s laughably misinformed claims regarding the artistic validity of the franchise, the MCU has proven over and over that it is a series of cinematic and thematic intrigue.

Yet, with all of its glorious characters and stories, it is hard to deny that the MCU is somewhat derivative of itself. Many films contain different stories but boil down to recurring plot elements. For example, “Iron Man” and “Ant-Man”, despite how beautifully each is crafted, basically tell the exact same plot with different embellishments.

Somewhat making up for this feel of “sameness” across the franchise is the superb, enthusiastic performances of the films’ casts. The actors truly bring a lot to the MCU, which Marvel Studios recognizes itself considering the decision to recast certain characters due to disputes over portrayals, most notably Edward Norton as Bruce Banner (replaced by Mark Ruffalo). Each character feels unique and alive, likewise helping even the most uninspired plots stand out in some manner.

The MCU’s most recent installment, the Disney+ series “WandaVision”, is certainly an anomaly. The series is unlike anything the MCU has ever presented with the usual inclusion of the stellar cast and themes, making it somewhat of a juggernaut of storytelling within this franchise.

“WandaVision” features Avengers Wanda Maximoff and Vision attempting to live a normal existence between the events of “Avengers: Endgame” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home”. The series is half sitcom parody and half cinematic experience, with each subsequent episode taking inspiration from a particular decade of American television while also offering glimpses of the world outside of said reality.
Immediately, the wacky premise gives “WandaVision” its own niche in the MCU. The sitcom segments of the show really do feel like classic series like “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, “Bewitched”, and “The Brady Bunch”. Complete with black-and-white visuals for the ‘50s and ‘60s, a live studio audience, appropriate aspect ratios, and acting styles tailored to fit each decade, the parody is startlingly authentic.

The “outside” segments of “WandaVision” feel much more in line with what audiences have come to expect from the MCU. It is delightful to watch the aspect ratio slowly shift from 4:3 or 16:9 (depending on the sitcom decade) to the cinematic 2.39:1 widescreen, knowing that what is about to be seen will either answer questions or create new ones. While at times, especially in the first three episodes, the sitcom segments can feel a bit too slow-burn, the cinematic scenes almost always balance them out quite nicely.

However, the true standout feature of the series is its surprising willingness to border psychological horror with some of its content. This is a first even among the MCU films’ wide variety of genres.
In a split second, the tone of the show will switch from upbeat to dark, disturbing, and mysterious. There are scenes of characters choking while others maniacally laugh, a mutilated corpse, and suppressed consciousnesses. Even heavier scenes involve characters crying in fear for their own and their loved ones’ lives and a character spiraling into grief-driven mental illness.These tonal shifts drive the mystery of the story, continuously making audiences ask themselves, “what exactly is going on here, and why does it feel wrong?”

Underneath all of the impressive cinematics and writing is a deeply sad story revolving around themes of loss, depression, denial, suffering, and insanity. Ultimately the series is about a refusal to face reality—to cope with the harshness of one’s own life—and the devastating effects such unwillingness can have. The series is obviously part of the larger MCU, but in many aspects this story feels like the most intimate of the franchise thus far.

Of course, part of the strength of the series is the cast that radiates energy every second on screen. Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff) and Paul Bettany (Vision) give some of the best performances of their careers while Kathryn Hahn (Agnes) and Teyonah Parris (Monica Rambeau) shine in supporting roles. For a series requiring actors to switch between essentially different versions of their characters at a moment’s notice, having actors truly onboard with the premise is very important, and “WandaVision” boasts incredible talent.

“WandaVision” more than proves itself as a worthy—perhaps even among the best—installment in the MCU. Each week, discussion runs rampant over social media following the release of a new episode, signaling just how much excitement this series has sparked following an entire year of no MCU content at all due to COVID-19 delays. “WandaVision” was clearly the right place to begin the next phase of the franchise, with its charm, heaviness, and uniqueness capturing the hearts of many fans from the very beginning.