WANDAVISION FIRST REVIEWS: A WHIMSICAL HOMAGE TO CLASSIC TV AND A TANTALIZING SLOW-BURN MYSTERY
ELIZABETH OLSEN AND PAUL BETTANY DELIVER THE COMEDIC GOODS, AS THE SERIES DROPS DELIGHTFUL COMIC BOOK EASTER EGGS AND ITS MYSTERY UNFOLDS IN THE HIGHLY-ANTICIPATED RETURN TO THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE.
After the pandemic brought the industry to a halt, delaying multiple release dates for the studio, Marvel has finally returned with limited series WandaVision, kicking off the beginning of its Phase 4 slate. It’s also the studio’s first foray into delivering some original programming to Disney+, with the first two episodes of the series premiering to the streamer on Friday, January 15.
The highly-anticipated series puts Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and her synthezoid boyfriend Vision (Paul Bettany) in the spotlight. A 1950s-style sitcom spotlight, to be specific. On the surface, WandaVision looks to be unlike anything Marvel has done within the 13-year framework of its Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But does the program work? Here’s what critics are saying about WandaVision:
HOW DOES THE SITCOM NARRATIVE WORK?
“Each new episode replicates a different decade of yesteryear sitcoms beginning with 1950s’ I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show in the premiere episode. The second episode tackles series like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie, and the third shadows The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and so on.” —Megan Vick, TV Guide
“It’s played almost as a straight tribute to those ancient shows, but there are tiny touches, here and there — beyond the employment of superpowers — that suggest that something is very wrong.” — Helen O’Hara, Empire Online
“In a break from the traditions of the ’50s and ’60s, the faux-sitcom vehicles of the first two episodes go out of their way to cast people of color, and to poke at the blatant misogyny that turned shows like Leave It to Beaver into symbols of a bygone era. When actress Teyonah Parris pops up in episode 2 as one of Wanda’s new neighborhood pals, Geraldine, WandaVision has its cake. Old shows never had Black women playing this type of role to chipper perfection, but “Geraldine” clearly knows she isn’t supposed to be there.” — Matt Patches, Polygon
“With each installment, a few more cracks in the sitcom facade appear, but the bigger mystery is unveiled at an excruciatingly slow pace. In the second episode, Teyonah Parris is introduced as mysterious neighbor Geraldine, but those who have been following Marvel casting news will know there’s more to her than that. The third offers some tantalizing peeks at what might really be going on but stops short of explaining it. As a weekly series, it’s an aggravating and unsuccessful structure.” — Kelly Lawler, USA Today
“WandaVision isn’t just another story about superheroes; WandaVision is a love letter to the history of sitcoms, one that sharply dissects how and why the format endures and why it remains culturally significant. Yep—WandaVision is a superhero show (a genre that’s frequently dismissed by critics) that analyzes sitcoms (a format frequently overlooked by critics).” — Brett White, Decider
HOW IS THE PRODUCTION QUALITY?
“The set design, the performances, and the specific feel of a multi-camera sitcom — WandaVision’s pilot was filmed in front of a live studio audience — reflect a love for these indelible shows.” — Alex Abad-Santos, Vox
“The look and feel of each episode is true to the spirit of its respective sitcom era as much as to any one show, as it’s clear everyone did their homework(*).” — Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone
“Though it gets off to a slow start, the show has plenty going for it, from gorgeous, extremely expensive-looking production design and breathtaking special effects to punchy performances, a trippy mood and a plot that does eventually become quite absorbing.” — Judy Berman, TIME Magazine
“Christophe Beck nails the jaunty sitcom score interstitials that bookend scenes, while Frozen songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez gift our leads with period-appropriate jingles that befit whatever decade they’re trapped in now.” — Clint Worthington, The Spool
HOW DOES IT CONNECT TO THE MCU?
“As the saturation drains from the title card, and the opening notes of WandaVision’s first theme song begins to play, the episodic nature of the series jumps out, and reminds you that this debut Marvel series on Disney’s streaming service isn’t quite trying to conjure up your traditional MCU shock and awe.” — Charles Pulliam-Moore, io9.com
“These Disney+ series, though, expand the story of characters we know from the movies in way that the movies simple did not have time to do. It also allows WandaVision creator Jac Schaeffer and director Matt Shakman to put a uniquely stylized and deeply emotional spin on a story that would have (had this been a movie) otherwise been shackled by the mandated aesthetics of the overall MCU.” — Allison Keene, Paste Magazine
“There is an overarching story to the series, one that will presumably explain how these very surreal events connect back to the lives (and deaths) of matter-and-mind manipulating Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and the artificial “synthezoid” known as Vision (Paul Bettany) from the more cinematic entires of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Through the first third of WandaVision’s season, though, its Marvel mythology remains in the background.” — Matt Singer, ScreenCrush
“What’s really going on here, given where movie-goers saw these Avengers last? That’s the fundamental mystery, one the producing team is clearly in no hurry to divulge. Patience becomes a virtue, taking in the sitcom homages while maintaining a watchful eye for sly Marvel references and cleverly placed dollops of color, presenting possible cracks in the black-and-white veneer.” — Brian Lowry, CNN
HOW ARE ELIZABETH OLSEN AND PAUL BETTANY?
“Olsen and Bettany are delightful as they channel sitcom performers of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, demonstrating their sharp comedic timing. It’s a testament to their strengths as actors that they don’t come across as doing imitations of the old shows WandaVision draws from, which helps immerse viewers in each new period.” — Chris Agar, ScreenRant
“If you were looking for charming stars to convey a Mary Tyler Moore/Dick Van Dyke vibe, you couldn’t do much better as Olsen and Bettany get to spell out the sweet chemistry that the movies have only hinted at.” — Dan Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter
“Bettany has had a few comedic roles in the past, but none that demanded this level of full-on slapstick commitment — yet his follow-through makes him feel like a pro with 100+ episodes of syndicated hilarity under his belt. And it’s not just that he can deliver some killer punchlines, it’s how fiercely he throws himself into the relevant archetypes of each era while always allowing the glimmer of artifice to stand out.” — Liz Shannon Miller, Collider
WHAT ABOUT THE SUPPORTING CAST?
“The leads aren’t left alone to do all the heavy lifting thanks to a terrific supporting cast of character actors that wouldn’t normally find their way into a Marvel Studios production. Notably, Kathryn Hahn uses her comedic skills to great effect as the precocious neighbor Agnes and That 70’s Show alum Debra Jo Rupp, as the wife of Vision’s boss, is a perfect addition to add to the period feel of the show.” — Kyle Wilson, Lamplight Review
“Alongside Olsen and Bettany is Kathryn Hahn as a nosy neighbor, whose comic relief develops and darkens as the show moves into the 1970s. She’s as invaluable in WandaVision as she is in most things, perfectly capturing the series’s mood of perky, tireless energy slowly being consumed by paranoid sci-fi dread.” — Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair
“The supporting cast is also a delight, with hints of further meaning yet to be unveiled, with the impeccable Kathryn Hahn bringing the sass as the couple’s helpful neighbour Agnes and Mad Men’s Teyonah Parris as the mysterious Monica Rambeau.” — Lewis Knight, Daily Mirror (UK)
ANY FINAL THOUGHTS?
“Unabashed, off-kilter, and unlike anything Marvel has ever attempted, WandaVision is a reality-warping joy that promises a new beginning of the MCU.” — Lauren J. Coates, Consequence of Sound
“Stretched out into three (and likely more) episodes, the stuck-in-a-TV-show premise starts to seem like a better idea for an interlude within something larger, rather than a whole thing unto itself.” — Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair
“Working as both a love letter to classic sitcom television and a modern comic book mystery, WandaVision is just weird and charming enough to work.” — Kyle Wilson, Lamplight Review
“Consider WandaVision an unusual first step for this new Marvel phase. The best parts lovingly conjure the mood of very old television shows. The worst parts feel like just another movie.” — Darren Franich, EW