Friday, March 12, 2021

TV Review: WandaVision


There have been other television shows set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe like Agents of SHIELD or Daredevil, but WandaVision is different.  Using Disney+ as their platform, Marvel is taking their movie star characters and placing them in series such as this as well as the upcoming Falcon and Winter Soldier and Loki.  

This is a bold step.  While television is a held in more regard than it was decades ago, there is still a stigma of moving from movies to TV.  There is a risk of diluting or damaging the brand and the characters by making them for television.

Luckily, this is not the case with WandaVision.

In fact, this series allows for supporting characters in the larger films to finally have the focus.

The show also takes an incredibly risky step in throwing you into the deep end of the show's concept without explaining anything for at least three episodes.

The show begins with Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olson) and her newlywed husband, the android Vision (Paul Bettany) entering Westview to begin their lives.  However, everything and everyone (including our main characters) appears to be something out of a 1950's sitcom like The Dick Van Dyke Show.  While there is a bit of strangeness at the end of the first episode, almost everything plays out like a normal sitcom of the era.  The next two episodes proceed the same way in the genre of the sixties (like Bewitched) and the seventies (like The Brady Bunch).

During this time, they encounter wacky neigbors like Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) and Geraldine (Teyonah Parris).  Wanda even gives birth.  But all the while, there are only hints at something more sinister underneath all of this charm.  Along with this, many unanswered questions begin to lurk in the minds of the characters.  After all, Vision was killed in Avengers: Infinity War, but he appears to be back with no explanation.

Luckily, answers start coming in episode 4.  I will not spoil them here, but the show does a good job of slowly unraveling the mystery behind the events.

If you are a fan of the MCU and its movie characters then you will enjoy this show.  The sitcom format is disorienting at first.  But I am a person loves the various eras of TV, having been raised on I Love Lucy, MASH, The Andy Griffith Show, and the like.  It was incredibly fun to watch the cast and crew play around with the tropes of the era in a fun way that didn't feel too much like they were talking down to the audience.  It also worked well when juxtaposing the moments when the larger threat would begin to emerge.  The interruption of the idyllic world we were watching became all the more disturbing.

The production values are excellent.  This doesn't feel like a cheap "Made-For-TV" version of the MCU.  It feels like it fits right in as a sequel of sorts to Endgame.  There are also a number of character crossovers from other films like Thor, Captain Marvel, and Ant-Man for the die hard MCU fans.

One of the things I liked was that the show was an exploration of grief.  Thinking about Wanda's life, she had it very hard.  She lost her parents as a child, lost her brother a few years later, and then lost the love of her life only a few years after that.  There is a big hole in her life made by the emptiness of those losses.  The show explores what that can do to a person and what lengths that person might go to in order to make things right.  I like that the show is ambiguous about how we should feel about our character's choices.  It's like when someone you care about does something that you know they shouldn't: we feel an internal conflict of attraction and revulsion at the same time.  Whether or not the character's choices make them redeemable will be up to the viewer.  But the show gives us such lovely and ponderous lines like this: "What is grief if not love persisting?"

The performances are wonderful.  The show stands or falls on Olsen's power as an actor.  She has always been someone who has shown skill beyond many of her peers and she is able to effortlessly slide into various personalities and genres with the greatest of ease and with the element to truth in her performance.  Bettany does some of his best acting as the Vision character I have seen.  It is helpful to watch him slowly come to terms with the awful truth lurking beneath the surface of his own existence.  The real breakout for me is Parris, who is set up for some big things down the road in the MCU.  Hahn does a good tern as well, playing up all the elements that the scenes require for her character.

Like The Mandalorian, this show was released an episode a week.  This gave rise to many fan theories and speculations.  While the show does have a lot of twists and turns, it never goes too far into unexpected territory.  Some of the people who start friendly and devolve into antagonists are ones you can easily spot.  I remember one character was introduced and within seconds I turned to my wife and said, "He's going to be the bad guy."  And like a classic Marvel movie, things lead to an epic super-powered battle.

And I have to say this show is as experimental as I would like the MCU to get.  Now that we are past Endgame, I can see Marvel pushing the envelope a bit more in a lot of ways.  They have been getting a lot of pressure from critics and fans to break out of the same-old-same-old and do something different.  

However, if Marvel is not careful, they could destroy the most successful movie franchise brand in history.  That is what happened with Star Wars.  Love it or hate it, The Last Jedi broke the saga.  They rolled the dice on doing something unexpected and it blew up in their faces.  Marvel took another big risk with WandaVision, not only in terms of its sitcom format but also in the moral ambiguity of the character choices.  You can only bend a character so far without breaking beyond repair.  That is how many people about what happened to Luke Skywalker in the Disney sequels and that can happen with the MCU heroes as well.  WandaVision pushes the characters to the edge and maybe over it.  I don't want to see them go much further.

I can see lots of potential going forward for Marvel projects to get more overtly political or preachy or experimental to the point where they will break the franchise.  It is a difficult tightrope to balance because audiences crave something new and unexpected, but if you frustrate their expectations too much they will turn on you quickly.  So do you destroy your audience good will by going to far or do you fade into obscurity by not adapting with the times?  And are those the only two choices?

One of the reasons that the MCU is a special place is because it doesn't work to alienate its own audience but has the broadest appeal.  WandaVision pushes that appeal a lot, but it doesn't push anyone away.

I know that there is more planned for some of the characters in WandaVision in both movies and television projects.  And based on what I have seen, I want to see more.

No comments:

Post a Comment