This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Daybreaker’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
The vision is destroyed once more. WandaVision presents a shift of focus to the world of streaming for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The show follows Wanda Maximoff on her journey to overcome grief, all wrapped up in an ode to the decades of sitcoms. It’s clear that a lot of passion went into the creation of WandaVision, which is what makes the final product that much more unfortunate. Ultimately, WandaVision sets aside any strive for creativity in an attempt to fit the classic MCU formula.
I found WandaVision to be a very mixed product. Every week a new episode would leave me feeling different about the show. Whether it impressed or disappointed, I knew it would be hard to see the series as consistent by the end. In this review, I will break down my three biggest takeaways from WandaVision.
In Marvel’s first feature miniseries they provide a messy translation of their film-based formula.
WandaVision feels as though multiple different ideas are clashing. The primary concept for the show is an exploration of grief through the eyes of Wanda. After losing her family, the death of Vision breaks Wanda, leading her to create a pocket reality out of emotional anguish. This pocket reality resembles the class American sitcoms that Wanda and her brother would watch with their parents. This concept is compelling and well enough to carry the show. However, the corporate controllers of creativity at Marvel’s board must ensure that all MCU properties follow their tried and true formula. The formula dumbs down storytelling to average-at-best quality in the goals of avoiding audience alienation and appealing to all moviegoers. Only, WandaVision is not a movie, and the formula is not yet perfected for miniseries.
Rather than playing as a coherent miniseries, WandaVision presents itself as a generic MCU film chopped up and spread out. It almost seems as if Marvel took no notes from the success of Netflix’s Marvel miniseries. Of course, it would be too much to ask for Marvel to do away with their formula. Rather, audiences must wait for the MCU to become more experienced in miniseries, only then will the formula fit the TV show format in a clean fashion.
So, what damage is done by this flawed adaption of the formula? The issues can first and foremost be seen in the fourth episode of the show. The story comes to a halt as all scenes shift outside of Westview to the points of view of S.W.O.R.D. agent Monica Rambeau and astrophysicist Darcy Lewis. The episode begins as The Blip is reversed, which, while it is an intriguing insight into the greater universe, detracts from the contained story of Wanda’s character. The jarring shift in tone comes when Monica enters The Hex and Darcy takes over as the episode’s protagonist. Darcy, while a fan favourite, brings upon a violent crash of tones. The episode quickly turns from a dark look at post-Blip Earth to a buddy cop comedy with writing so weak it feels directly out of Avengers: Age of Ultron. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the entire episode serves as exposition. This weak spot could’ve easily gone without damaging the show too much. Unfortunately, the clashing tones of S.W.O.R.D. and Westview continue until the finale.
The problems don’t end there. According to the formula, every project in the MCU requires a big bad villain and an epic climactic CGI battle. Despite these elements more than often hurting what could’ve been perfectly good superhero films, Marvel still insists to instill this element into every property. Although, this time they didn’t just bless us with one CGI big bad for our main characters to fight. Oh no, they gave us two. Enter Agatha Harkness, one of Marvel’s most predictable twist villains, and Anti-Vision, whose only purpose was to offer a loophole around killing off the real Vision.
Blurring the Lines
Contrary to the concept of the show, Marvel restricts itself from blurring the lines between good and evil.
Core to the events of WandaVision are Wanda’s severe actions. In her anguish, Wanda created this pocket reality, and, in doing so, Wanda took an entire town captive. It is worth noting that, when their mind is freed, citizens of Westview acknowledge the events that have gone on around them, confirming that they are conscious while locked into the role Wanda has imprisoned them in. While it could be argued that the creation of The Hex was out of Wanda’s control, when Wanda realized what she had created and the effects it had on the citizens, she still opted to keep The Hex in place. The bottom line is that Wanda’s grief has driven her to act in unethical ways, and not just in small terms. Wanda commits numerous felonies throughout WandaVision.
It would almost seem as if the weight of Wanda’s actions was the point of the show. In fact, it’s brilliant in concept. They say the best villains are the ones that believe they’re doing the right thing. It’s an even greater achievement if a storyteller can get the audience to sympathize with the villain. Wanda’s character was so well fleshed out through the show that she’s become one of the better-developed characters in the MCU. It’s just a shame that this brilliant concept was never brought to form.
A simple glance at Wanda’s actions throughout WandaVision certifies that she has become a villain, and yet Marvel seeks every opportunity to mitigate the audience’s perception of her unethically. To put it bluntly, blurring the lines between good and evil poses too much of a threat to their profits. So, enter two villains that are objectively evil. The hope, one might assume, is to make Wanda look like the hero once more by comparison.
The first villain is Agatha Harkness, who had been under the guise of Wanda’s nosy neighbour Agnes. During her grand reveal, WandaVision presents a brief retelling of the show’s events from Agatha’s perspective, paired with the jingle “Agatha All Along.” This reveal simply tries to state that Agatha was Agnes all along. However, the reveal seems to purposefully mislead audiences into believing that Agatha was behind most, if not all, of WandaVision’s events, therefore taking the blame away from Wanda. The problem with Agatha Harkness is that she serves to be more of a plot device than an actual character. She removes responsibility from Wanda, serves as a docent for Wanda’s flashbacks, explains MCU witchcraft lore, has a CGI fight, and is put on the shelf for possible springboard projects. Even showrunner Jac Schaeffer said “We didn’t think this series needed a big bad … I mean, the big bad is grief, you know, and that’s the story that we were telling. ”
The second villain is S.W.O.R.D. Director Tyler Hayward, who heads the Westview containment operation. Hayward is perhaps the laziest avoidance of blurring lines in the entire show. Hayward’s purpose, to investigate and address the Westview situation, would be an expected reaction from government agencies. In the simplest way of saying it, S.W.O.R.D.’s goal is to save the citizens of Westview. However, Wanda is the protagonist of the show (villain or not), and if Hayward and S.W.O.R.D. are working against Wanda that would make them antagonists. God forbid Marvel has an antagonist that isn’t also a terrible person. Easily enough, the writers just made Hayward’s character is a self-centred asshole. Now audiences won’t have to worry about their antagonist being remotely likable. “Wait, no, that’s not enough,” said one Marvel board member to the other. “Let’s have him try to murder children.”
In fear of losing the audience’s attention, Marvel holds our hands throughout the run of the series.
If it wasn’t obvious enough by now, Marvel only sees one thing in the MCU: money. There’s a catch though. The amount of money depends entirely on the scale of the audience. Recently we’ve seen a lot of studios appeasing fanbases in an attempt to draw forgiveness from distraught fans turned away from alienating projects. While this concept seems relatively new to the likes of Star Wars and DC, it is the lifeline of Marvel’s success. Although now Marvel is tasked with a challenge. They know they have a consistent audience with their films, but they have to cross that audience over to a miniseries format. Even scarier, this debut miniseries is “nothing” like anything Marvel’s ever done before.
This doesn’t so much reflect the show itself, but it definitely reflects the weekly experience watching it. The showrunners took every step possible to make sure the audience was never lost. Whether it was dropping the first two episodes at once, dedicating an entire episode to explaining what’s happening, tweeting that the show’s pacing will pick up, releasing new sneak peeks trailers, or adding mid-credit scenes to episodes, WandaVision did it. Perhaps the weirdest part was when cast member Paul Bettany hyped up a shocking cameo that never came. Similarly, cast member Teyonah Parris hyped up the reveal of a mysterious engineer character. In retrospect, both cast members were joking around with the audience. However, both jokes seemed like an attempt to keep audiences engaged with the unravelling of the story.
WandaVision is not terrible, nor is it groundbreaking. Rather, WandaVision is Marvel’s messy attempt to play it safe while taking risks. It once again presents creative differences between the showrunners and the corporate board. While it’s a shame to see such a compelling concept tarnished by formulaic cliches, it’s nice to see there was at least an effort to explore deeper themes. Unfortunately, I fear Marvel will learn all the wrong lessons from WandaVision.