Who’s been messing up everything?
I’ll be honest, that tune has been stuck in my head for the past month, and now it’s stuck in yours again. You’re welcome.
While the past year has been disastrous for all of us, it’s done particular damage to film schedules. Even the biggest studios have seen their schedules kneecapped as the cinemas remain closed either partially or fully. The story of the year has been that of constant delays, with most tentpole releases being pushed into the back-end of 2021 or even into 2022, and this has been the same too for the MCU. Black Widow is still currently scheduled for May of this year, but the sword of Damocles still hangs over the solo debut of the popular character. It has already been delayed twice, and a third seems increasingly likely.
Of course, when your schedule is so packed like the MCU’s is, you don’t just delay the one film at a time. Black Widow‘s delays started a chain reaction of the films of the franchise being pushed back, not only did this apply to release schedules but to the shooting dates too, as several films had to suspend all filming while restrictions were in place. Shang-Chi, Eternals, and Spider-Man: No Way Home all experienced delays in filming in the past year, and a few more have been victims of the ripple effect this caused.
So with the MCU on ice in cinemas for the past year, hopes were high for the slate of Disney+ Marvel TV shows to fill the gap the franchise has left in recent times. Indeed, this streaming service was a key reason for cancellations of other Marvel properties on competing services, so now the service is fully up-and-running, the time was right for the MCU to make its presence known, and it kicked off with WandaVision.
There were a lot of questions going into this show; how is Vision alive? Why television pastiche? As well as many more. Well, the show was in no hurry to give viewers answers, instead choosing to use its first few episodes as a time to flesh out the world of ‘Westview’ through the lens of some pretty perfect period television tropes. It lulls you into a false sense of security in the first two episodes, making you think the full series will just be a collection of TV parodies, before leading you to a subtle breadcrumb trail that becomes more significant as the series progresses.
I’ll be honest, after the first few weeks I wasn’t really sure what to think of WandaVision. The parody of 50s and 60s TV was fun but lacked in substance. Granted, there were hints that all were not as they seemed, but they were very thin on the ground. Some might say this is a good thing, it kept us guessing and presented something different, but as a showcase of past television tropes, it didn’t get beyond just recreating them. It didn’t have a point to make about them, it just wanted to borrow its style to fix the decade-hopping niche they were going for, and it felt unfocused because of this. This is both a drawback and an advantage of the television format, it works because you can take a longer route to tell a story, but it can backfire if your viewers don’t find all of it interesting because they’ll just turn it off. When you pay to see something in a cinema, most of the time, you’re stuck with it, but there’s such a wealth of choice with TV that taking this stranger route was a considerable risk.
However, with an established franchise such as the MCU, there exists brand loyalty amongst the viewers. Those who wanted to watch WandaVision would have stuck with it regardless because they’re Marvel fans, and they want to know the next part of the story, so you can be relatively certain that those people will be on board for the duration, and furthermore they had conditioned viewers over the years to not take things at face value. We know that things were not as they seem, and the show acknowledges this, I just think it spends a little bit too long fawning over the concept, especially in the early stages of the season.
There is a turning point, however, a few episodes in when we start to get a clue as to what is going on, both in the wider world and in ‘Westview’. While these revelations were, to a certain extent, predictable, they were nonetheless coherent and well-presented. There are key changes to the world post-Endgame that hadn’t yet been explored, but were getting a look-in here.
I would say that the key theme of WandaVision is grief, and how a person deals with great loss. The world seen here has just experienced massive upheaval (to put it lightly) and everyone in it is grieving in a different way, but none more so than Wanda. I didn’t quite realise the amount of loss she had experienced in the franchise until this series put it into focus. She lost her parents at a young age, then lost her brother after they were both experimented on, and finally, she was forced to destroy the love of her life, only to witness him being brought back and killed again. She shouldered so much loss and devastation, and this mini-series hinges on those losses.
I’m not going to go too far into the series plot details, as it’s still relatively fresh, but the world of this series exists because of Wanda’s grief. Her mourning was so powerful that it causes this world-altering reality, putting herself in the line of fire again with the authorities.
The themes of loss go deeper than that though, as we also see the return of Monica Rambeau, the daughter of Captain Marvel’s friend Maria, who we last saw as a child in that hero’s titular film. Monica is an underrated facet of the season in my opinion. She’s shown as being one of the victims of ‘The Blip’, which brings its own emotional baggage, but she also discovers that her mother passed while she was gone. In the world she returned to, her mother had already been dead for two years, for her this loss is still fresh, because of this she sympathises with what Wanda is going through. She’s driven by her empathy, as well as having to live up to her mother’s legacy. They’ve both experienced great loss, and she just wants to support her but is pushed back by Wanda, and her superiors. I really hope we see more of Monica, as she’s an extremely interesting character.
Production-wise, everything is top quality, as we’ve come to expect from this franchise by now. Its use of retro colour schemes and filters is very impressively done and looks great, and each episode has its own dynamic and inspiration, be that classic sitcom parodies in the earlier episodes or pitch-perfect pastiches of modern television; all while finding time to squeeze in some classic Marvel grandiose storytelling and intrigue. Also, the inclusion of songs from Robert and Kirsten Lopez was a stroke of genius, their song ‘Agatha All Along’ became an instant meme factory online, a surefire sign that you’re on to a winner.
I don’t think it’s a perfect series by any means, some of the earlier episodes drag on a fair bit, and they get just about as much mileage as possible out of the TV concept, but it’s nonetheless a welcome instalment into the franchise. One that moves some of the pieces around for future films and series, and introduces some new faces along the way (as well as having a few surprises up its sleeve). It’s an entertaining watch, with an interesting central gimmick, and a strong emotional grounding. It’s nothing that re-writes the rule book, but it makes the best use out of characters who’ve primarily been supporting players up until now and makes them tangible powers in-universe. All-in-all it’s a strong first step for the MCU’s new streaming home.