Marvel Meets Dick Van Dyke
by Jeff Bowles
On January 15th, the video streaming service Disney+ premiered the first of its Marvel Studios television series, WandaVision. The show is tied into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, which for better or worse means it’s a more meaningful viewing experience if you’re familiar with a few of the newer Marvel movies, most notably Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. By no means are the two premier episodes entirely dependent on those other films, because really, WandaVision is a Marvel production of a different color (or is that Technicolor?).
WandaVision is high-concept for a comic book adaptation. It’s a hybrid classic sitcom and superhero movie, though the first two episodes depend much more heavily on the sitcom tropes than on muscles and powers. It pays expert homage to old fifties and sixties shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show and I Dream of Jeannie, and it does so in a fairly clear-eyed fashion. Disney+ and Marvel Studios were wise to premier the first two episodes together, because at first blush, the series doesn’t seem to have much more going for it than being a classic American television pastiche.
It’s pretty clear by the end of episode two, however, that there’s something interesting and probably sinister happening underneath an otherwise slick and squeaky-clean black and white veneer. When last we saw Avengers Wanda Maximoff and The Vision, they were embroiled in the whole Infinity Saga thing. The mad Titan Thanos killed Vision to take the elemental stone locked inside his cranial matrix, and a bit later on (after some significant time travel shenanigans) Wanda helped the rest of the Marvel heroes take Thanos down for good. So what are the two of them doing here, living in I Love Lucy land? The show offers a few tantalizing hints, but so far, nothing super concrete.
As with most of the stuff Marvel commits to the screen, WandaVision is based on a couple different comic book source stories. I won’t and can’t spoil it for you, because the cinematic universe always diverges from the comics, and for good reason. But it will be intriguing to see how the series evolves from here. Lots of fun to be had with the concept, and I hope the show takes full advantage of every fun detail it’s set up so far.
The tone of WandaVision is pretty spot on, with a few notable exceptions. Sometimes jokes land in an authentic and genuine manner, and at other times they feel more synthetic than The Vision himself. For instance, in one sequence Vision accidently eats a piece of chewing gum, and it makes him act comically inebriated. For some reason. Again, sitcom logic. Paul Bettany, who plays the android Avenger, must enjoy the opportunity to put a new spin on this guy, because he really gives it everything he’s got. Marvel is taking a risk with this show, and that’s much appreciated. Other comic book movie franchises have gotten stale, but the MCU is proving once again it’s never willing to rest on its creative laurels. Superficially so, at least.
Ultimately, Bettany and co-star Elizabeth Olsen are really charming and comfortable together. Vision and Wanda Maximoff have a long and storied Marvel romance, so it’s fun watching this whole interesting take on superhero storytelling unfold. Some fans may find it slow and laborious. I mean, no big action scenes or sweeping and typically overly dramatic character moments? Really?
But this is good television if you ask me, Americana masquerading as Americana. Truth be told, it’s got more creative potential in its little finger than most comic movies released in the last quarter century had tucked away inside their entire utility belts. The shared universe model is both fundamentally flawed and incredibly successful because it discourages outsiders and incentives people willing to dig in and enjoy a much larger overarching narrative. It won’t be for everyone, but that’s how it’s always been with comics and comic book fans. The good news with WandaVision is that it’s likely to ensnare you if you let it, regardless of whether you can tell Iron Man from War Machine, Winter Soldier from The Falcon, Hulk from She-Hulk.
By the way, She-Hulk, Falcon and Winter Soldier, Loki, Ms. Marvel, and a whole host of other Marvel heroes are getting Disney+ shows in the months and years ahead. Brave new world, if you’re looking forward to it. Eventually you’ll need a Master’s degree to understand the whole complex storyline. Lucky for you, I proudly hold that exact degree.
Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives the premier of WandaVision an Eight out of Ten.
Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!
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