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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

'WandaVision' fails to escape the Marvel formula

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A promotional poster for Disney's Mini TV series "WandaVision" is pictured.

Marvel Studios has achieved a remarkable level of consistency across the 23 films it's released to date. Sure, there are a few films mixed in that could be described as middling. But those films, such as “The Incredible Hulk” (2008) and “Thor: The Dark World” (2013), are not the norm. Unfortunately, this consistency has come at a cost. A criticism often leveled at the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the homogeneity of its lineup. The majority of its films have retained a relatively similar tone and neutral gray color grading. Additionally, their soundtracks are about as unremarkable as they come (with the "Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014–17) films being notable exceptions).

So, when Marvel announced that its first MCU TV series on Disney+ would be a take on mid-20th century sitcoms, it seemed like they were finally doing something experimental with the multibillion-dollar property that is Marvel Entertainment. "WandaVision" (2021), while quite different from the Marvel films in some respects, settled back into the usual MCU trappings by its finale, resulting in an entertaining, if somewhat unexceptional, conclusion.

What carried "WandaVision" in the beginning was twofold: its premise and the chemistry of its leads. Wanda Maximoff, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and The Vision, played by Paul Bettany, are just as charming as the sitcom counterparts they sought to replicate. However, the first three episodes were a risk. Besides the occasional break in reality that hinted at a larger plot just beneath the surface, they were purely sitcoms. The dedication to recreating iconic shows of multiple eras was somewhat successful, with the inclusion of period-appropriate special effects and theme songs. But, importantly, the show failed at replicating perhaps the most important element of a sitcom — the comedy. The writing of "WandaVision" made it feel more like an homage than a worthy replication.

What kept many people watching was the promise of something more interesting down the line. The hints at a grand conspiracy to explain the strange bubble reality Wanda and Vision existed in were the best parts of these episodes. It’s how they followed up on these hints that was the most disappointing element of “WandaVision.”

One of the major controversies over the finale and the show as a whole was its refusal to deliver on the hints that it so obviously placed throughout the entire season. It’s only natural for fans to theorize and pore over the tiniest details of a show or film, and just as natural for not all of them to come true. The director or writers have no obligation to cater to every whim of a franchise’s fanbase. In the case of "WandaVision," however, the disappointment is slightly more justified. With the inclusion of Evan Peters in particular, Marvel knew exactly what it was doing. Having played Quicksilver in the "X-Men" (2014–19) franchise, his appearance as Quicksilver in “WandaVision” was sure to set off the alarms of fans waiting for the introduction of the multiverse. His inclusion is not the first time that this concept has been teased in the MCU, and for it to amount to nothing once again is undeniably frustrating. The fact that it was an elaborate joke feels like a punch to the gut. Similarly, the reveal that it had been “Agatha All Along,” except that her role in the events of Westview was secondary to Wanda, feels disingenuous at best. 

What was left then for the final few episodes was a fun, but unevenly paced show that felt more and more like the middling Marvel films the further it went on. The scenes involving “S.W.O.R.D.,” the government body investigating the happenings in Westview, NJ, showed these issues more obviously than others. Every time the show would cut back to the real world the audience was met with the muddy colors and uninteresting bureaucracy that has plagued other MCU entries. When it ran out of things to reveal, the show largely settled into a generic superhero routine.  

Still, the show serves as perhaps the most effective and believable love story the MCU has seen to date. Wanda and Vision’s bond really does carry the show through, and the relationship that they are able to build retroactively improves their interactions from prior films.Wanda Maximoff is a deeply flawed but still deeply empathetic character. Every decision she makes is difficult because the ramifications are painful either way. Conversely, the decision to make Vision a manifestation of Wanda’s powers and consciousness rather than a true return of the character makes his journey feel less emotional than it could be, but Paul Bettany’s presence on screen is hard to ignore. 

The finale leaves many interesting paths for future Marvel films and television shows to explore. For "WandaVision" as a whole, though, this is a double-edged sword. The possibilities for fans are numerous, with many long-awaited elements being teased by its conclusion. It’s just a shame that they weren’t explored here. "WandaVision" was an experiment for the MCU. It was high concept, had terrifying implications and reinvented what a superhero show could be. The showrunners lacked the courage to see that vision through to the end.

Summary A fascinating experiment with just as many highs at it has lows, Wandavision shows that Marvel is still able to innovate, even if the execution isn’t always there.
3.5 Stars