Published Jan 15, 2021Marvel Studios had a quiet 2020, so one might expect them to start 2021 by loudly declaring that the characters audiences know and love are back. Maybe a movie with Captain America and Thor, or a show with Rocket Racoon. Get Baby Groot involved in some way. He is not as cute as Grogu, but he is still very cute. They are both on Disney+, so why not have a show where at some point Grogu cradles Baby Groot? Think of the merch possibilities. Instead, MCU head honcho Kevin Feige is taking a decidedly different tactic, launching the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with an homage to the classic sitcom.
While the MCU films have been criticized by some for hewing to the same style, WandaVision offers a dramatic departure from the quips and mass destruction found in most Marvel movies. The first two episodes of WandaVision see Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) living as wife and husband in a mid-century domestic sitcom, complete with laugh track, nosy neighbours, and plotlines that will feel familiar to fans of The Honeymooners or Bewitched. They've just moved into the neighbourhood and need to hide their superpowers from the new community.
In the first two episodes of the show, it eventually becomes clear that there is something dark bubbling underneath the surface of this idealized sitcom world. At one point, a voice from the radio calls out to Wanda, causing her to question her reality. Another scene takes on a surreal quality as Vision reaches through a man's body to remove the sausage he's choking on. As the second episode progresses, it becomes even more clear that there is something wrong, or maybe even malevolent, lurking behind this seemingly peaceful sitcom universe.
Olsen and Bettany easily slip into the trope of the straightwoman wife and bumbling husband. In this case, the bumbling husband is an android who can reach through people's bodies and do complex mathematics, but he still bumbles quite a bit. The chemistry between Olsen and Bettany is apparent, and the best scenes are those where Wanda and Vision discuss and question the nature of their relationship. This certainly isn't a traditional relationship: Wanda has the nature to warp reality itself, while Vision is a sentient android, yet they're taking on the role of a traditional husband and wife in a traditional sitcom. As this relationship is explored, will it shed light on the pocket universe they're inhabiting?
The issue, at least with the first two episodes, is that the mystery of why they are in this universe takes a backseat to the sitcom aesthetic. Through the first two episodes, the majority of the time is spent on wacky hijinks and not moving the story into an interesting place. There is a lot of time given to paying loving tribute to sitcoms of the past, but this isn't always the most compelling television. There are scenes that could be plucked from a 1950s, and they're funny in the way a 1950s show might be. You might smile, but you probably won't laugh.
To be clear, it's great that Marvel is experimenting and trying to do something different, but two episodes into a nine-episode season, WandaVision seems more like an exercise in style and has not yet gone beyond being much more than a tribute to sitcoms of the past. Even then, it's too straight-laced to really push the envelope. Feige teased that the series would be avant-garde, but in the first two episodes we've seen nothing that would warrant such a description.