[Review] ‘WANDAVISION’ sees bright moments, but ambition is often overshadowed by frustration

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

WANDAVISION

Rated TV-PG, about 27-35 minutes per episode.

Marvel Studios has always kept us in the dark with its projects. Considering its films have pulled in millions upon millions of dollars, who could blame these filmmakers for playing it close to the chest? The Disney-owned company knows how much viewers love these characters, the colorful universe they occupy, and the snappy surprises along the way. It gets us talking, speculating, and wondering the true fate of these Marvel superheroes, whether they were turned to dust or not.

With Thanos’s wrath in the rearview, Marvel Studios continues to push its creativity and explore the characters within its team roster. This has led us to Disney+ platform, giving us more time for things to get daring — as they do with the first series outing, WandaVision.

Note: The following thoughts are based on the new series’ first three episodes made available to the press. The series debut on Disney+ this Friday (1/15) will include a two-episode special. After its premiere episodes, it will assume a more regimented scheduling, releasing one episode each week

Set after the events of Avengers: Endgame, WandaVision centers on Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), a.k.a. Scarlet Witch, and super android Vision (Paul Bettany) as they try to live out an idealized suburban life in a small town. It’s as if they are stuck in various historical sitcoms, such as I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Dream of Jeannie, The Brady Bunch, and (naturally) Bewitched. None of the town’s residents – including stars Kathryn Hahn, Teyonah Parris, and someone I believe to be a disguised David Schwimmer (or a damn-good look-alike) – knows this power couple has supernatural gifts and abilities. 

But how can this be? Where does this fit in the Marvel Universe? Are Wanda and Vision trapped in some Pleasantville/Truman Show experiment? Are we perhaps in Doctor Strange’s “multiverse of madness?” When does the truth kick in?

So, what’s going on?

The series is directed by Matt Shankman (Game of Thrones), and the head writer is Jac Schaeffer (The Hustle, and the upcoming Black Widow). It’s the first of many shows among a growing arsenal of Marvel series that will premiere on Disney+. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and Hawkeye will hit later this year or next.

All I can say about the WandaVision plot is something is off about this suburban lifestyle and nothing is as it seems. As clever, fun, and funny as it is to see these superheroes walking around in these spaces, trying to live normal lives (like Vision doing a desk job and Wanda attemping to cook a four-course meal for Vision’s boss), at some point, the secrets have to be revealed. 

But will you have the patience to wait for it amid all the head-scratching?

Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios.

Does Disney+’s one-episode-per-week model fit?

Disney+ releases episodes weekly rather than all at once.

Here, that may prove to be a frustrating experience. Watching these few episodes is like watching a fraction of a David Lynch movie. If you’ve ever seen Lynch’s work, you know how erratic, confusing, and difficult it can be to immerse yourself in his stories. Everything is left of center, and you feel like you’re a part of a gag that seems like it’s never going to end. The line between reality and illusion is blurred. So, WandaVision is an acquired taste.

With The Mandalorian, each episode is more straightforward. They each have a beginning, middle, and end, and it wraps up in a fashion that has you curious to know what’s to come the following week. While each story in WandaVision has its beginning, middle, and end, along with a tease of what’s really going on, you may not feel as compelled to tune in each week. 

This is going to be a slow burn series where what happens during its first season’s conclusion will either make or break it. Not having that ability to roll through the entire series in one sitting when you’re dealing with surreal material like this is admittedly taxing. It may cause you to say, “This is just too weird.” You may fail to connect, especially coming off 20+ Marvel movies that (more or less) follow the same kind of approachable narrative structure.

This is the first entry that is really going for something else entirely. So, it depends on what kind of viewer you are. You may watch the premiere and be like, “Eh. I will wait until more is revealed, so I don’t have to sit confused as long.”

Kathryn Hahn as Agnes in Marvel Studios’ ‘WANDAVISION,’ exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios.

What works best?

The performances are delightful. It’s pure joy to watch Olsen and Bettany poke fun at these sitcom roles, speak in the exaggerated tone of the period, and try to blanket the truth about themselves. There are even amusing little ads inserted in each episode. (Pay close attention to them. They may have some noteworthy details.)

It’s clear everyone is having a ball, hamming it up to the sky, most notably Kathryn Hahn as nosy neighbor Agnes. Her wink-wink delivery is simply delicious.

Overall thoughts?

It’s a bit of a mixed bag thus far. Too challenging to judge it from what little is here. It’s incredibly different and weird, but it also plants a smile on your face.

So, give it a try, talk to others who’ve seen it, and determine if you want to continue or wait until the story has opened up more. I’d probably wait, but who knows what kind of conversations and theories will surface.

Grade: B

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.