By Rhys Bailey

Magic on screen that’s spellbinding to behold

After more than ten years of superhero content from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and the climatic finale of Avengers Endgame (2019) as well as the ‘superhero fatigue’ expressed in the film industry, I had some concerns about the future of the MCU. After watching WandaVision these concerns have magically vanished.

WandaVision is the first in a planned lineup of MCU television series for Disney+ and the next progressive stage for the MCU. And what a strong start it is.

The series stars two Avengers, telekinetic witch Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), and the advanced synthezoid the Vision (Paul Bettany), who seemingly died back in Avengers Infinity War and yet appears here alive and well. In a strange turn of events, they seem to be living in a variety of sitcoms throughout the decades, all set in the town of Westview. From the off the series is unlike anything seen before.

Indeed the first episode sees Wanda and Vision living in domestic monochrome bliss as a newly married couple in an I Love Lucy homage setting of 1950’s comedy. The attention to detail in replicating the aesthetics and nuances of the shows referenced makes it easy to forget you’re watching a show about two superheroes. It’s only towards the end when Wanda and Vision break away from their sitcom persona’s to save a dying man that the illusion is shattered and we’re snapped back to “reality”, and people who have watched the series will realise the irony of that statement.

This continues for the first three episodes, which are heavily buried in a stylistic and carefully crafted aesthetics as homages to shows such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, and The Brady Bunch, with gradual cracks in the mystery beginning to show, and a realisation that there is something more sinister at play.

From episode four onwards, the series begins to explore the context of what is happening and why we are seeing these characters in a world of goofy comedy as opposed to the typical dynamism of the typical Marvel Universe, as an outside agency named S.W.O.R.D attempts to unravel the mystery of why the town of Westview is trapped in a TV world, something that takes more prevalence as the episodes progress. Jimmy Woo, Darcey Lewis, and Monica Rambeau are the key players in this agency, not only desperate to save Westview, but also Wanda herself.

In the previous films in the MCU, Wanda has lost everyone she held dear; her parents, her brother, and the Vision, her one love. In her immense grief, she uses her powers on spectacular new levels to twist reality, turning the entire town of Westview into her idealistic reality of a normal life, to the point where she creates children seemingly out of thin air.

However, she has trapped all of the people of Westview within the false reality, suppressing their personalities and free will. All of them are trapped under Wanda’s spell and suffer as they experience her grief and can’t break free. 

Wanda herself doesn’t even realise what she is doing and it’s only when an outside team of people tries to break through and solve this strange anomaly that things start to unravel. As the real world collides with Wanda’s fantasy one, the audience starts to consider the morality of Wanda’s actions as she desperately tries to maintain order and control, and her relationship with Vision begins to strain.

The tonal shift of the show’s narrative is impressive as it gradually transitions out of charming tv show tributes with cheesy comedy into an emotive story exploring grief, depression, and feelings of being lost and out of control. Themes that have not previously been explored so in-depth within the MCU. So often the hero suffers a loss, picks themselves up, and moves on, driven into heroics. Whereas here we see the reverse. Despite saving the world and universe multiple times, Wanda is broken down by what it has cost her and has no villain to focus her attention on, so she runs away from herself, creating a false reality to hide in.

Wanda and Vision have previously played more supportive roles within the MCU, compared to the main six Avengers, whereas WandaVision allows these two characters to grow, and allows for us to look further into who these characters really are. Olsen gets to explore a more complex side to Wanda and bring another powerful female lead to the forefront of the MCU on par of significance to Black Widow and Captain Marvel. Olsen gets to show off the range of her acting prowess, playing Wanda as comedic, sassy, nurturing, and vulnerable across the episodes, eventually growing into her power, confidence, and destiny as one of the most powerful beings we’ve seen so far in the MCU.

The same stands for Bettany who has previously played the Vision as an advanced machine learning his humanity. By this point, he is more developed and we see him get to play a doting husband and father while comically hiding his robotic-ness and being more assertive as an individual.

The show is also supported by a strong cast, especially Kathryn Hahn who’s performance as nosy neighbour Agnes is magnetic and has so much comedic charm that even when she is exposed as the villain of the piece, Agatha Harkness, a diabolical yet whimsical witch,  you can’t help but like her. She leaves you wanting more.

Meanwhile, Darcey (Kat Dennings), Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Harris) help serve as tethers to the rest of the MCU, having ties to other films, such as Thor, Antman and Captain Marvel, while also mirroring the audience as they try to work out what is happening, being an audience to the events of Wanda’s reality themselves. These characters get their own growth outside of their respective films, especially Monica who is processing her own grief, serving as a reflection for Wanda on the importance of facing her feelings, and who continually tries to reach out to her and help her. 

Throughout its weekly episode release the series was thoroughly analysed by fans for hidden meanings, possibilities, and answers to try and predict what was or would happen, with the show’s unpredictability serving as one of its strongest points.

However critical and fan responses to the finale of the show varied on whether it was a satisfying end to the series or not, and debates have formed around the ethics of Wanda enslaving an entire town, even if she didn’t know she was doing it. There were also sentiments of disappointment in the lack of a Doctor Strange cameo that was widely speculated to occur at the end. However, this could have undermined Wanda’s whole development so far. It’s more important that she goes through the events of this series and comes out of them on her own rather than because of the intervention of another character.

Wanda growing into her power and finding herself again was the satisfying ending she needed, having spent the series living in denial, running from her feelings, and pretending to be who she is not. It took facing her trauma head-on and embracing her pain, while rediscovering the love that caused it all, to move on.

The final goodbye between her children and Vision as she brings down the false reality she tried so desperately to preserve, is heartbreaking, but the strength moving onwards from it is symbolic of her acceptance of her pain and actions. When she arrived in Westview she was Wanda, depressed and lost in her sense of purpose. She leaves as the Scarlet Witch, flying away with closure and a new sense of self.

While the ending might not have been to everyone’s liking, and the series leaves several questions unanswered, it leaves a lot of intrigue for what can happen next in the MCU. It has a lot to offer and is a refreshing twist, and reminder, on how great stories about superheroes can still be. 

As the first Marvel series on Disney+ and the first step in Marvel’s ‘phase four’ of projects, WandaVision is a strong first step, cleverly crafted in its concept and execution and giving two characters the much-needed development and spotlight that they deserve. The cast’s performances are wonderful, especially those of its leads Olsen and Bettany, and Kathryn Hahn was a pure delight to watch, who I’m hoping will return for future projects. 

Perhaps what I enjoyed most about the show is its unpredictability despite the rabid theories and ideas proposed by the fandom. It defied the expectations for a superhero series and I can’t wait to see what impacts WandaVision and Wanda herself will bring for the future of the MCU. 

Wanda is set to return in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, with the events of WandaVision being tied in and will hopefully see her on equal footing with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) himself, and as one of the exciting players in Marvel’s cinematic future in the years to come. Not only this but it also sets up the exciting debut for Monica as Photon in the next Captain Marvel film. 

Collectively all of these aspects make WandaVision an important watch for any fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a thrill right even for those who aren’t.