Review by C.J. Bunce
A year ago here at borg we previewed the first look at Marvel Studios’ new series WandaVision, and based on the unusual trailer we asked the question: What audience is WandaVision aimed at? The series at last began this weekend on Disney+ and two half-hour episodes in, I’m no closer to answering this question. In any other time that hasn’t been sidetracked by a pandemic, audiences would have already seen the big-screen release of Black Widow by now. The commonality is that each is a story focused on characters that have already been killed off in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We won’t know until this summer about the prequel movie with Scarlet Johansson returning as Natasha Romanoff (killed off in Avengers: Endgame), but it is a welcome sight to see the return from the dead of Paul Bettany as cybernetic superhero Vision (killed in Avengers: Infinity War) reunited with Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch aka Wanda Maximoff in this short, nine-episode mini-series. But here we don’t even know when it takes place in relation to the Avengers movies.
Two episodes in and you’re going to ask: What the heck did I just watch?
WandaVision coincidentally shares the conceit (as best as I can make it out) with the final episodes of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, comic book characters we already know well on the screen suddenly appear trapped inside a sitcom, complete with clap track. For Sabrina, it was finding herself in a parallel universe appearing in the real-life series from years past. For Wanda and Vision it appears each episode reflects the characters living out some type of existence, perhaps only in Wanda’s mind, beginning with the early era of Bewitched, a classic supernatural series about another witch, viewed by most of us initially via our black and white Zenith or Magnavox TV sets. The second episode seems to move ahead a bit, with updated styles of clothing, sets, and even subject matter and dialogue. But nothing certain is revealed yet.
Wanda and Vision hide their superhero/witch/cyborg status, like the Coneheads, from their neighbors, but about a minute of each of the first two episodes suggests at darker forces that are holding the couple in this state. Is it the stuff of the FX series Legion, also based on a Marvel Comics character? Both Stark Industries and the villainous Hydra have something to do with this. The series is clearly more The Twilight Zone than The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Love Lucy, or The Honeymooners. But the challenge of the viewer is clear: patience is required, as the slowly-leaked reality is certain to come into play. Perhaps like the series Lost?
Back to the question: What audience is WandaVision aimed at? You’re more likely to be older than 40 to be familiar with the TV being parodied here. Will younger audiences care? Like DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, this series is on the edge of the Marvel universe–way out there and far from the likes of Captain America and Spider-Man. Yet some of the best adaptations of comics have been the B and C-level characters, so it’s too early to write off the series. But hopefully it will pick up the pace sooner than later–they only have 4.5 hours to tell their tale.
The production values are top-notch, from the early 1960s sets to the Christophe Beck musical score, and a nifty contemporary TV commercial in each episode. The Bewitched-inspired opening even has Bettany in animated form looking like Dick Sargent. Olsen and Bettany have the requisite chemistry and are even cute and funny. But several times in that first hour I felt fidgety. Nice surprises include appearances by Debra Jo Rupp (That ’70s Show), Emma Caulfield (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Kathryn Hahn (Parks and Recreation).
So what’s going on here? Will this be a springboard for returning Paul Bettany’s Vision to reality in some way or form? Will Disney take this as the opportunity to bring Wanda’s brother, Peter aka Quicksilver, back to life, too, in the form of the best of the two screen versions: Evan Peters from X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Dark Phoenix?
It’s very odd, but as a curiosity there’s enough of a reason to return for episode three. Look for new episodes of WandaVision every Friday, only on Disney+.