Arts and Entertainment

A (Wanda)Vision of Success

The fourth phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has officially kicked off with Marvel’s brand new original series “WandaVision.”

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Susannah Ahn

The fourth phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has officially kicked off with Marvel’s brand new original series “WandaVision.” Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprise their roles as Wanda Maximoff and Vision respectively and are introduced, confusingly, as a married couple living in Westview, New Jersey. Set after Vision’s death in “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018), the series has no shortage of mysteries and secrets for the audience. However, “WandaVision” doesn’t only succeed in being entertaining and engaging, it also displays a level of creative boldness that sets it apart from everything Marvel’s done before.

The first few episodes of the show follow a classic sitcom structure, a choice which undoubtedly puzzled long-time fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The laugh tracks, dialogue, and black and white scenery contrast dramatically with the action-packed nature and modern-day vocabulary of typical Marvel films and shows. Wanda and Vision first arrive in the 1950s in a completely different environment from their previous appearances. Wanda plays a light-hearted, traditional American housewife, contrasting with the tough, Sokovian witch that viewers were most familiar with, while Vision portrays a hardworking and loving husband. The two lead characters face little adversity, especially compared to their past adventures. Wanda and Vision seemingly go from fighting off villains bent on annihilating mankind to trying to impress Vision’s boss. It’s initially difficult to understand the rationale behind the production and plot decisions, but the significance is later revealed.

With only nine episodes (and no plans for a second season) dedicated to a somewhat complicated plot, Matt Shakman, the director of the show, and all the actors involved did a marvel-ous job at progressing past the sitcom style and allowing it to crumble as the plot itself drastically shifts. The show transitions perfectly from Wanda’s made-up town to those who exist outside of it, making it easy for viewers to follow along as they shift from one location to another. The first few episodes start off in black and white, but color gets incorporated gradually as the show moves from decade to decade and becomes more grounded in reality. Olsen brilliantly portrays the difference between Wanda’s facade of an idyllic sitcom life and her realization of the damage she’s causing to the innocent people for her perfect reality. The first few confrontations between Wanda and those attempting to stop her serve as the perfect setup for a suspenseful ending to the show.

Even with so much potential for the series finale, some MCU superfans felt as though the conclusion of “WandaVision” was anticlimactic. Vision’s storyline and character development were somewhat inconsistent with previous plot points in the MCU, especially his death in “Avengers: Infinity War.” Additionally, while the show introduced several new and interesting characters, fans hoped for appearances from various superheroes from the comic books as well as an in-depth backstory for specific characters. However, because of several filming difficulties due to COVID-19, many introductions were not possible for this specific series. Though the series finale strayed from many of the viewers’ wishes, it did not take away from the overall quality of the entire show. “WandaVision” gave viewers the chance to understand and connect with the leading characters more than ever before while exploring the MCU even further through their eyes.

“WandaVision,” in trend with other MCU properties, was a record (and server) breaking hit, all without sacrificing creativity and intimate character portrayals. A lot of the show’s success comes from embracing the quirkiness that a lot of other comic book movies and shows shy away from. Previously, tangential comic book properties existed as either gritty re-imaginings or they’d heighten the camp to the point of parody and forego the tone of the source material. When Marvel decided to explore darker themes within the MCU, the stories were relegated to a semi-canon Hell’s Kitchen grounded firmly in grim realism. While Daredevil (2015-2018), Jessica Jones (2015-2019), and Luke Cage (2016-2018) are all great shows, they shy away from the unorthodoxy of blind ninja lawyers with echolocation, purple men, and bulletproof skin, for fear that these traits would detract from the story. In the case of DC, the Harley Quinn animated series pokes fun at the dramatizations we tend to overlook in the Batman universe, as well as comic book fans themselves, but while enjoyable, the world of the show feels like more of a caricature of the comics than a reimagining.

“WandaVision” differs in that it not only uses its absurdity to its advantage but does so without sacrificing the depth of the story. Traveling through sitcom-like gimmicks enhances the storytelling, rather than detracting from it. That absurdity becomes surreality, and both are able to coexist within the confines of the story. The audience is able to laugh at the domestic exploits of Wanda and her neighbors, and experience their suffering through pained close-ups and awkward (if not sinister) glitches, and that duality brings nuance to Wanda’s character. With each laugh-track triggering misstep, it becomes more clear what Wanda is hiding from, and how she’s doing it. The fun the audience experiences with Wanda builds a connection that allows them to empathize with what would drive her to take a town hostage. The comic book zaniness gives a lightness to the story while posing ethical dilemmas, in a way that’s cohesive enough to avoid a jarring transition from sitcom to cerebral drama.

While the balance of character and absurdity is impressive, “WandaVision”’s true feat is bringing such an unconventional story to mainstream audiences. While there is no story comparable to “WandaVision” in execution, shows like FX’s “Legion” (2017-2019) or HBO Max’s “Doom Patrol” (2019-) have delivered moving stories wrapped in comic book camp. However, these shows, while great in their own right, lacked the budget and direction to be brought to mainstream audiences. “Legion” was visually stunning, but too slow for casual viewing, and “Doom Patrol” faced the opposite problem in that its story and characters far outshined its budget, leaving extensive character arcs and seamlessly woven comedy limited by budget-constrained visual effects. “WandaVision” brings a palatable and visually appealing story to casual audiences, with its commercial success a hint toward the evolution of the superhero genre, one where complex stories are made accessible and depth isn’t synonymous with realism.