You may have noticed that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been getting weird lately.
Since the Phase 2 introduction of Guardians of the Galaxy, Kevin Feige and company have loosened the reigns and let its directors experiment, within reason. Ryan Coogler explored Blackness and the effects of globalization in Black Panther, while James Gunn found silliness in a found family with the Guardians films. Taika Waititi took it even further with Thor: Ragnarok, leaning into Chris Hemsworth’s comedic strengths and fashioning a neon-tinted, sexual innuendo fever dream through the cosmos for him. The mainline “Avengers” stories have stuck with the tried-and-true formula of action-packed thrills and chemistry-fueled humor. Still, Feige must’ve known that, for the franchise to survive beyond Captain America and Iron Man, Marvel needed to break the mold and push its boundaries.
It was clear from the first trippy trailer that WandaVision, the first of Marvel’s Disney+ series, was not traditional Marvel by any stretch. So, what is it exactly? If you take it squarely at face value, WandaVision is a sitcom. Yes, Marvel Studios, the same studio that brought us Captain America: The Winter Soldier, made a situational comedy in 2021. Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) live in a fantasy world that looks like a classic Nick at Nite lineup. The first episode references 50’s classics like Leave It to Beaver and I Love Lucy, while the second borrows heavily from the 60’s sitcom Bewitched, right down to its opening credits. Like Lucille Ball and Elizabeth Montgomery, Wanda and Vision encounter daily hijinks as they try to live everyday American lives, despite the fact she’s an all-powerful science experiment, and he’s the living embodiment of an Infinity Stone.
Of course, all is not what it seems. Knocking at the door, or crackling on the radio, of their idyllic cul-de-sac life are traces of an outside world. It is the only inkling that WandaVision takes place within the present Marvel Cinematic Universe, implying that Wanda is trapped in a post-Endgame loop (Feige confirmed that the show follows the events of Endgame and ties directly with the upcoming Doctor Strange sequel). Whether she’s being held hostage in this mind prison, or it’s own of her own making, remains to be seen and adds more than enough mystery and plot momentum to bring viewers back each week.
Even without its ominous ties to the broader universe, WandaVision is just delightful. The first two episodes go all-in on the sitcom pastiche, taking all of the genre’s tics and tropes and molding them into a lovingly tongue-in-cheek package (laugh track included, and necessary). Wanda and Vision aren’t two characters you would expect to work in a setting like this (frankly, I can’t think of any Marvel characters that would). And yet, the hammy comedy and whack-a-doodle circumstances they find themselves in offer refreshing and unexpected spins on their unique abilities. Did you ever think a stick of Big Red gum would turn Vision into a wasted lush? Probably not, and that’s what makes WandaVision a joy to watch. Even more typical situations, like Wanda struggling to prepare dinner for Vision and their guests, have wonderfully ridiculous twists that add to the show’s effervescent charm. It’s almost impossible to not smile at the shenanigans on display, whether it’s Wanda using her magic to save Vision’s drunken talent show, or Vision playing the ukulele to distract his boss from Wanda’s disastrous cooking adventures.
It helps to have a game cast of characters and actors willing to get this weird. Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany didn’t have much time in the Avengers films to build on their characters’ connection, but here, the chemistry is on point. The two are relishing in these heightened versions of Wanda and Vision, and their joy and energy are infectious. Kathryn Hahn is a fantastic addition to the MCU as Agnes, WandaVision’s own Ethel Mertz to play off Wanda’s Lucy Ricardo. We still haven’t seen how Teyonah Parris’ Monica Rambeau or Kat Dennings’ Darcy Lewis will fit into this group. I have no doubt, though, that they will only add to the wackiness.
WandaVision feels like a new lease on life for Marvel. COVID-19 forced the series into being the standard-bearer for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while traditional projects like Black Widow and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier cooled their heels. WandaVision has handled the responsibility with aplomb. The show has set a unique, individualized course that Marvel will hopefully follow with its upcoming projects, like Disney+ series Loki and Hawkeye, and the Eternals and Shang-Chi films. It may have been unintentional, but if the first two episodes are any indication, then the early arrival of WandaVision might be the one happy accident to come from the pandemic.