By: Avi Koenig
WandaVision, the Disney+ creation of Marvel and Disney, centers around superheroes Wanda Maximoff and Vision as they adjust to their new lives in suburbia, pulling viewers in with twists more sinister than you’d expect from the average sitcom.
Over the past 13 years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, has emerged as arguably the most dominant media franchise in entertainment. With 20+ movies, Marvel has consistently released box office smashes that culminated in Avengers Endgame in 2019, breaking the record for highest grossing film of all time. Despite this continuous success on the big screen, Marvel Studios has historically struggled to mirror that success on television. To be fair, the MCU had solid TV series such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D on ABC and Luke Cage on Netflix. However, nothing approached the cultural domination and popularity of the movies. When Disney (the parent company of Marvel) launched their own streaming service Disney+, Marvel took the opportunity to attempt to revitalize their television efforts for exclusive shows for the new platform. Unlike previous Marvel TV series, Marvel Disney+ shows would feature more prominent and well-known characters from the movies, connect more with the larger MCU, and have a much greater budget than previous shows.
This experiment launched on January 15th with the release of the first two episodes of WandaVision. The show, which released a new episode weekly until its season finale on March 5th, centered around Avengers characters Wanda Maximoff, played by Elizabeth Olson, and Vision, played by Paul Bettany. From the start, the show established itself as unlike anything Marvel had ever done with each episode being stylized in the form of a sitcom set in different decades, from the 1950s (in the vein of the Dick van Dyke Show) to the 2000’s (influenced by Malcom in the Middle) set in the fictional town of Westview, NJ. This is in addition to an overarching real-world frame-narrative that is filled with the more familiar supernatural MCU phenomenon and battles that I won’t spoil for you.
This is all well, good, and unique for Marvel, but what really makes this show stand out from the rest of the MCU, and quite frankly the rest of the TV landscape, is how this show is never truly a battle of good vs evil. For most of the show, there isn’t even a clear villain, and even when it becomes apparent, the villain only serves as a conduit to exploring the show’s overarching theme: dealing with grief. In Avengers Infinity War (spoiler alert), Vision was killed by the Titan Thanos when he removed the Mindstone which powered him (he’s a synthezoid- a type of android). This show is centered around Wanda, who was romantically involved with Vision, dealing with that grief and loss. In many ways, the show isn’t about finding out who the bad guy is or what’s behind the mysterious happenings in Westview. It’s about Wanda going through the stages of grief over the course of the show and moving from her fantasy of what the world should be like towards what the reality is. A reality that is much harder to deal with than fantasies. The TV show format is especially suited to this progression, allowing for a much more sedate and impactful progression through these stages, retaining much more emotion and perspective than a 2-hour movie would allow.
In conclusion, what are my impressions of WandaVision? I think that it’s a fantastic show that opens the door for Marvel, bringing the MCU and the superhero genre into a completely new realm of storytelling. It’s got action, it’s got drama, but most of all, it’s got a sense of vulnerability and a profound insight into the fragility of the human condition. A smashing success for Marvel’s Disney+ debut, and hopefully a prelude for more fantastic shows to come.