WandaVision review: Black Mirror meets the MCU for this brilliantly inventive experiment
Wanda and Vision are living a new life in the suburbs – but how did they get there? And why does the world keep changing around them? Disney+'s first Marvel series keeps you guessing.
"She’s a magical gal in a small-town locale, he’s a fella who’s part machiiineee.
"How will this duo, fit in in Westview-oh, sharing a loooove… like you’ve never seeeeen.
Sure, Avengers: Endgame was big… but did it have its own theme tune? I think not.
But then, WandaVision is a very different sort of release from Marvel Studios. When Robert Downey Jr first shrugged on his CGI robot suit in 2008, it would have been hard to imagine the same creative enterprise eventually creating this unusual hybrid of classic US sitcoms, the Twilight Zone and the CGI slugfests of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
WandaVision is weird and wonderful, immensely engaging and exciting to watch. It’s probably the oddest thing Marvel Studios has ever done, more like Black Mirror than Black Panther, but also stands as a genuine love letter to a bygone age of TV.
As I said it’s…different. Even if at the start, it seems incredibly familiar.
Because you see, the series isn’t just aping the styles of old comedy shows. WandaVision actually is a half hour sitcom, with complete small-time arcs (an important dinner party! Impressing the local bigwigs! A talent show!) and acclaimed comedy actors (most notably Kathryn Hahn as “nosy neighbour” Agnes and Buffy’s Emma Caulfield as a local Queen Bee).
But it’s also something darker and more mysterious, playing and subverting with form as it hints at a wider mystery. Why are Wanda and Vision really in Westview? Who’s trying to reach them from outside? And who is responsible for the strange classic TV world they’re finding themselves in?
“Wanda…who’s doing this to you, Wanda?” a voice asks repeatedly over the radio.
The show keeps us guessing. To begin with, we join Wanda and Vision in black-and-white for a 1950s-inspired episode (each episode apparently jumps forward a decade), complete with a live studio audience and a decidedly low-stakes plot where Wanda and Vision appealingly flail around trying to hide their special powers while blending in with their neighbours.
“You move at the speed of sound and I can make a pen float through the air. Who needs to abbreviate?” Wanda quips at one point, after a note on a calendar leads to chaos.
It’s only at the end of the first episode that we begin to sense something is very wrong as the pair’s dinner guests begin to act oddly – and this theme is picked up again in episode two (released on Disney+ the same day as the first episode) when colour begins to bleed into the frame and mysterious outside forces make themselves known.
Saying too much more could be construed as spoilers – everything I’ve mentioned so far has appeared in trailers already, so don’t write in – but it seems fair to say that this is a series that will have fans obsessively theorising and searching for clues as much as the early seasons of Westworld or Lost.
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And the series is happy to give those clues, most notably in a series of slightly sinister commercials which riff on the wider Marvel universe (and which Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige describes as being where “other truths of the show begin to leak out”) but also in the main story itself, with the idea that “something is very wrong here” only growing as the series continues.
Creepily, these moments are juxtaposed with plenty of high-energy madcap sitcom fun, making for an unusual but satisfying push and pull of tones - like code-switching, but changing between genres instead of languages. Sometimes, you can lose yourself entirely in the sitcom storylines, which are presented relatively seriously – they do really seem to be happening, and produce a few unironic laughs on their own – only to be thrown out by an uncertain look on an actor’s faces, or a shift in the visual or audio format.
At times, WandaVision reminds of 2011 Oscar Best Picture winner The Artist, which recreated the atmosphere of a silent film only to wrongfoot audiences by including audio elements. Your brain subconsciously thinks it’s watching one thing, only to be reminded it’s actually viewing something quite different.
At other times, it recalls the meta uncertainty and playing with form seen in 2019 Black Mirror special Bandersnatch, which told a choose-your-own adventure story that veered into dark corners. While WandaVision isn’t interactive like that, it does push up against its structure in a similar way, reminding fans that the heightened world they’ve been watching doesn’t necessarily have the rules they think it does.
The fact that this works so well is largely down to the central performances of the actors, who have to balance the creepiness and mystery with high-energy comic pratfalling, and they manage it largely successfully. While Paul Bettany is perhaps not the most naturally gifted comic actor, he’s very game as the hapless and increasingly British sitcom version of Vision (“I’d better leg it,” he comments at one point), while Elizabeth Olsen is both winning and unsettling as this ever-so-slightly off-kilter Wanda.
When the “real” Vision or Wanda do break through, it doesn’t feel like a different version of their characters – it feels more someone briefly waking from a dream to remember that you can’t really fly, or that it’s not the weekend any more, before slipping back into slumber. Even in the sitcom world they’re definitely themselves – they’ve just forgotten that the context they’re being themselves in should be different.
All of this comes to a head in the third episode (released on Friday 22nd January), which without giving anything away ends with a seriously tense, powerful sequence that may change everything you think you know about this series and is sure to leave fans desperate to see what comes next. I certainly was.
Overall, WandaVision is a fairly unique take on Marvel characters that might take a while to get used to – I’d hazard that Disney decided to launch with two episodes at once to reassure fans that the mystery does tick along and it’s not all mannered sitcom pastiche – but is well worth the investment.
It’s compelling, gripping, fun and inventive television – and if nothing else, it’s worth sticking around to see what jaunty new theme tunes they can come up with every week.
Sing it now: “One plus one…it’s familyyyyy. WandaVision!”
Want more WandaVision content? Check out our guide to the WandaVision cast, the WandaVision release schedule and the creepy WandaVision commercials. Plus, we ask: is Wanda pregnant? When is WandaVision set and how did Vision survive? Or you can check out our latest WandaVision review.
WandaVision launches on Disney+ with two episodes on Friday 15th January. Want something else to watch? Check out our full TV Guide.