The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been dominating the big screen for a little over a decade now, raking in hundreds of millions consistently with each blockbuster release. Their films feel more like global events or holidays with the way giddy fans run to their nearest theater to see each new adventure.
As a result, it seemed strange news when it was announced that two of the Avengers would be heading to Disney+ for an exclusive series. Many were ready to write this off as throwaway filler, but “Wandavision'' proves even in its messiest moments (of which there are plenty) to be one of Marvel’s most exciting experiments.
Following the events of “Avengers: Endgame,” the pilot finds us launched into 1950s Westview, New Jersey, where newlyweds Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) have just bought their idyllic, suburban home over opening credits reminiscent of a '50s sitcom.
From there, we quickly flash forward in time to a scene in the kitchen where Wanda and Vision stare at a calendar, unable to remember why they placed a heart over Aug. 23. A laugh track plays behind them, and it becomes clear to the audience that our characters are as confused as we are.
This is the game being played in the first three episodes of Marvel’s creative and cluttered series, and it’s some of the company’s most compelling work to date. Each episode changes eras and sitcoms, jarring the viewer through a dreamlike remembrance of classic television while splicing in just enough mystery to keep you on edge, like a brush against your leg as you swim in the ocean.
This careful balance of keeping things so strange and surreal feels like unexplored territory for the superhero genre, and one that melds us with Wanda in ways we have yet to understand.
It also helps that Olsen and Bettany are such wonderful anchors, both given the creative freedom to find their own voices within the shadow of “I Love Lucy” or “Modern Family,” but also the proper space to blossom their romantic connections in ways the films never gave them time for. It’s the glue that holds much of the latter episodes together as the story’s secrets begin to reveal themselves.
As each answer gives way, “Wandavision” can’t quite help but lose some of its ambitious excitement with it as the series falls into a traditional superhero formula.
A separate storyline involving a group attempting to reach Wanda can’t match the weight of our main protagonists’ struggles, and the finale is particularly disappointing both in its shockingly boring action sequences and the awkward stance it takes on how Wanda’s grief affects the outside world. Luckily, Olsen and Bettany shine in their intimacy, giving Wanda’s trauma a clear voice through all the needless noise (its maturity on par with the great “Avengers: Endgame”).
This is far from Marvel’s tightest work, but in many ways, the unkempt wildness of the series makes it one of their most interesting too. I can only hope this cinematic universe takes note of what the unexpected can do for their heroes: it promises the best has yet to come.
Now streaming exclusively on Disney+