WandaVision: A Provisional Review

WandaVision: A Provisional Review January 29, 2021

Image used for review purposes.

WandaVision is difficult to review, because almost anything one says is a spoiler. This is not so good as when one hears the summary and guesses what the show might be about, assuming one is not in seventh grade, one is likely to be right. This is not even Buffy second season for complexity and story arc so far. 

And yet the first three episodes were risky video, a slow unfolding of the central concept, and so there is hope. Perhaps things are not as obvious as four episodes make them seem and some really risky writing will happen.

A person can watch three episodes, be given ‘clues,’ build up hope for something really complex only to have the fourth episode combine wooden acting with exposition to tell you that the simplest explanation for everything you have seen is the answer. Not since the third Matrix film have I felt so let down by a storyline. The first Matrix combined so many clues, visual, verbal, evoking all kinds of possibilities, but the next two films showed that most of the visualizations were wasted, thrown in for “depth,” and the story a bit of juvenilia.

The premise is so promising: two excellent Avenger characters, played by strong actors, go through a stereotyped sitcom for each decade. Seeing “Wanda” (Elizabeth Olson) and Vision (Paul Bettany) ham it up in the set of the Dick Van Dyke Show  and then becoming groovy in living color is good clean fun. Having knowledgeable  MCU fans shout out characters they recognize from the Marvel films makes for viewing a raucous party and allows a second watching to “catch things.”

Sadly, the acting on the show is very uneven as less prominent characters from the feature films are given more lines than they can handle. You can hear some of them not using contractions, because the script didn’t: think emphasis on the not in did NOT. You should NOT.

The worst part is, however, the writing. So far the plotting confuses introducing fan favorite clues, actors, and MCU self-referential lines with a plot. The first three episodes are a clever parody of television sitcoms from the represented decades, if a bit obvious in jokes and earnest not to offend the average viewer who has never seen much black-and-white. Mysterious things happen, but in our house when they happened, someone, just about everyone, could explain what likely was occurring. We had it all confirmed in episode four.

We are not looking for Shakespeare in the MCU, but we could at least get Captain America: Civil War level plotting. Instead we get a lot of stale: color appearing in black/white/sepia was shocking in the 1930’s and a metaphor in Pleasantville, but overdone. Maybe the writing works better if you know nothing of the history of television or film. The kids, mayhap, have not seen all this before now. As a result, plots can roll down predictable lines, with lots of goodies for MCU fans, and all will be mediocre, but jolly.

This is, however, the hope I still harbor. Maybe what we have “learned” in the first four episodes, and relearned in case we missed the first visual clue, and then had explained to us in a speech in case we missed all the visual clues, will turn out to be a double-fake. Perhaps, like the best seasons of Angel, the arc will seem unendurably immoral or obvious, only to mix us up. Dawn in Buffy did that for us: “Oh no,” we cried. And then “Joss Whedon is a god of writers.” If you have not, watch the story arc of that season unfold and marvel that such a thing was made.

I enjoy comic book shows and if not a fanatic for the MCU (as I am for some other worlds such as Star Trek), I have been on the ride for decades. I have even taught a session of college or two based on the better bits of the product. This show is fine, watch it if this is the kind of thing (like my family), you like. This review, such as it is, turned out more negatively than I wish it were because the lack of risk taking, the failure to be clever, is so sad. There are excellent actors here, much money spent, and so far the plot is “clever” if arch references to other product is clear, but not smart.

The show is certainly well crafted, Disney polishes her productions, with the effects, sound, and lighting holding up to any feature film. The cast is delightfully diverse without sermonizing: would that real sitcoms of the various eras had done so well. Television has improved!

I really like WandaVision, but I almost loved it until episode four when Exposition and Obvious sucked all the fun out of the show. And the quips. So many quips.


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