“We are an unusual couple you know.” “Oh I don’t think that was ever in question.”
Disclaimer: Spoiler-free review based on the first two episodes. Score updated following series conclusion.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
WandaVision marks Marvel's grandiose return to the screen, in an extremely fitting television outing. Helmed by show-runner Jac Schaeffer, directed by Matt Shakman, and executive produced by the legendary Kevin Feige, one would assume this show was set up for success from the get-go. However, this time is different, as Marvel decided to take a series of risks, including multiple major tonal changes, which represent a disconnect from everything that has come before. So, did WandaVision stick the landing?
The answer: absolutely. Without question, the initial two episodes are the most inspired content that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has released to date. It's hard to watch without maintaining a massive grin from start to finish. When talking about WandaVision's strengths, where does one even begin?
Let's start with the cast. The show stars Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany as the titular characters, and while both share great chemistry and are written incredibly well, Bettany steals every scene with his awkwardly charming lines and oddly fitting accent. Additionally, Kathryn Hahn shines as the snarky neighbor, Agnes, and Emma Caulfield provides some hilarious low-stakes conflict as the stuck-up councilwoman Dottie. Truly a stellar cast that needed to be on point to create the immersion the show relies on.
Speaking of immersion, WandaVision flawlessly creates a seamless world indistinguishable from that of a classic sitcom, even maintaining the 4:3 ratio and iconic black and white filter. Composer Christophe Beck created a textbook cheery soundtrack that slots right in. The first episode pays homage to the quintessential classic, The Dick Van Dyke Show, while the second focuses on the beloved Bewitched. Both episodes have an intro scene in the vein of each respective show, with a Marvel twist, and even feature commercial breaks highlighting products popular during the time, all of which hiding easter eggs diehard Marvel fans will be able to spot. The writers went as far as to tweak each character to match the characters of the show they're paying homage to, while still maintaining the core of their charm. While it may sound odd that Wanda changes from Laura Petrie to Samantha Stevens, and Agnes from Millie Helper to Alice Pierce, it flows perfectly. Everything just fits.
Last but certainly not least is the story. Without going into spoilers, the show balances laugh-out-loud comedy with surprisingly creepy psychological horror. From the first minute, the show barrages you with unrelenting one-line zingers, all hilarious. As the viewer becomes acquainted with the world, you get the feeling that something is off. Right on queue, cracks in the matrix begin to form. These scenes, while few in number, are masterful in both direction and sound mixing, and feel like they were ripped right out of The Twilight Zone. Shakman manages to make these episodes feel like an extension of the classics while preserving the distinct Marvel flair.
If I had to come up with any negatives, it would be that WandaVision might be hard for somebody with no prior Marvel knowledge to jump into. It's a "trippy" show by nature, but without any knowledge of the previous films, it would be hard to fully appreciate what mastery is at play here.