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WandaVision (Disney +) – streaming review

I felt uncomfortable about reviewing WandaVision while episodes were still dropping on Disney +. The series was so, well… unexpected, that I didn’t think I could grasp it until it was finished. Now it is finished, I’m still not 100% sure I’ve “got it” fully.

If you’ve spent time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the MCU to those in the know), you’ll probably be familiar with Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) – a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch – and Vision (Paul Bettany), the synthezoid previously known as Jarvis. They were relatively minor characters in the Avengers series but were linked to lead characters Captain America and Iron Man respectively. Now they get to breathe without the clutter of the Avengers.

Even describing the plot of WandaVision is fraught. Not so much because of potential spoilers, but because the first three episodes are so bonkers it’s difficult to describe what’s going on. Those three episodes are pastiches of American TV sitcoms from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s respectively. In each, Wanda and Vision play out family life as depicted in series like The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched and The Brady Bunch. They live in the (apparently) charming town of Westview with a colourful collection of neighbours. These neighbours include the nosy Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) and the trusting Herb (David Payton). But hints emerge over this trilogy of episodes that all may not be as it seems. I guess the fact Wanda gives birth to twins and they grow to school age over the course of a day suggests something is afoot.

That something is revealed in episode 4 (titled “We Interrupt This Program”), which takes a rather more conventional approach. From there, the series delves into staples of sitcoms past – the “very special” episode and Halloween – before jumping forward to a Modern Family style in episode 7. Episodes 8 and 9 wrap things in a way that will perhaps be familiar to MCU fans.

WandaVision is exceptional as a homage to classic American television. The writing is sharp, and the cultural touchstones are keenly observed. The complexity of the plot certainly requires more than a 100-minute movie. The five-hours or so of the series allows the granular detail to shine through. The series actually heads into some emotionally knotty territory, lifting it beyond mere superhero antics.

The action outside Westview is more formulaic, and involves several characters from the extended MCU in key roles. These include Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) from Captain Marvel, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) from the Thor movies, and Agent Woo (Randall Park) from Ant-Man. This “side” of the show takes over in the final two episodes. The ending is actually a little disappointing given the mythos the show built up over the earlier episodes. Even the producers admitted some fans commenting on social media had much better ideas for the series’ conclusion than they came up with.

But that slightly flat note at the end shouldn’t overshadow what is a triumphant achievement for series creator Jac Schaeffer and her team. WandaVision is a benchmark for the MCU post-Endgame. With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier already streaming (also on Disney +), and a Loki series due to follow, 2021 is shaping as a banner year for MCU fans.

David Edwards

 

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