The year 2019 saw the epic end of the longest Phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe of superhero films from Marvel Studios, courtesy of “Avengers: Endgame.” Well, there was also the epilogue-like adventure of “Spider-Man: Far from Home” afterwards, but that it beside the point. All seemed set for MCU Phase 4 to take the world by storm in 2020, thanks to the double-assault of having movies and streaming series on Disney+. Unfortunately COVID blanked out most of last year, and with 2021 still iffy for cinemas, it is the series that take the lead in starting Phase 4. The first offering to premiere: “WandaVision.”
Since its initial teasers, this particular MCU show has caught the attention of franchise followers due to its lead stars. Elizabeth Olsen is Wanda Maximoff, a European orphan who gained telekinetic abilities from energy given through Loki’s scepter. Paul Bettany is Vision, an android given life when Tony Stark’s “JARVIS” AI was fused to a synthetic body built by rogue AI Ultron, and empowered by the gem in Loki’s scepter, revealed to be the Mind Infinity Stone. The two would meet in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015) where a relationship forming between them is hinted.
This relationship gets tested in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” and then tragically ended in 2018 during “Avengers: Infinity War” when Vision is destroyed after Thanos rips the Mind Stone from his forehead. Wanda herself is killed when Thanos uses the Infinity Stones and Gauntlet to erase half of all life in the Universe. While she is revived after the Stones are gathered again in 2018’s “Avengers: Endgame,” Vision supposedly remains dead. So how are two together again in the “WandaVision” series? And furthermore, why does it look like the two are apparently living in a 1950’s black-and-white television sitcom?
When “WandaVision” premiered its first two episodes last January 15, some questions were answered and new ones given. The first chapter does (seemingly) take place in the 1950s when newlyweds Wanda and Vision arrive in the town of Westview to settle down as a stereotypical Fifties TV couple. The sitcom situation is played to the hilt, with laugh tracks. But the two note that some of their memories do not jibe, Vision has no idea what his workplace does, and when his boss and his wife arrive for dinner at their house, the sitcom atmosphere briefly disappears. But the wham shot is that everything is happening on an in-universe TV show, if the mid-episode commercial break failed to hint it.
Come episode 2, the setting has inexplicably advanced to the 1960s. Wanda and Vision are aware that their neighbors remain wary of them, so they see performing at the upcoming neighborhood talent show to be a way to break the ice between them and the community. But strange stuff continues to occur. They hear noises outside their house at night. Their radio briefly asks Wanda to find out who is responsible for their situation. And when Wanda suddenly gets pregnant she seemingly rewinds time to forget an unsettling only for the setting to advance again, this time to the 1970s.
Throughout the debut episodes of “WandaVision” the chemistry between Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany as Wanda and Vision is magnificent, particularly when they were channeling the classic 1950s sitcom couple thing. Bettany’s performance is solidly reminiscent of veteran actor Dick Van Dyke as with his “The Dick Van Dyke Show” from 1961. Episode 2 sees Olsen taking the lead as she interacts with the neighbor ladies and tries to keep their magic act from being too blatant a la Elizabeth Montgomery in “Bewitched.” The references and send-ups were refreshingly endearing.
But then this is a series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with superheroes, high tech and supernatural phenomena sometimes existing side-by-side. The end of episode 1 when the events in Wanda and Vision’s home is depicted inside a retro TV screen but surrounded by gadgets, is a big warning sign. So are the episode 2 commercial break which references HYDRA, and how Wanda’s neighbor Geraldine is not actually who she seems. Disney+ blurbs have already spoiled who Teyonah Parris’ character is, but it does not seem relevant for now.
If there can be a shortcoming in “WandaVision” it would be that the slow burn it is going for in terms of plot can be to its detriment. Sure, some reveals were given, but the overall plot has not seemingly advanced. The series only has nine episodes going for it, so the narrative has to start picking up soon. Perhaps more will come to light when episode 3 of “WandaVision” arrives on Disney+ this Friday, January 22. We will have to wait and see then.
Image from SuperHeroHype