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The first Disney+ series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is here: WandaVision! Today, we’ll take a look at the first two episodes, now available for streaming, to see if Marvel’s jump from the big screen to the small screen has been successful.
In short… yes it has! The first two episodes of WandaVision are definitive proof that the world of the Marvel movies can absolutely work on the smaller scale of television. Merging the Marvel universe with the world of sitcoms, a delightfully fresh combination, the series focuses on the relatively minor characters of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), continuing their story after the events of Avengers: Endgame in new and unexpected ways.
Because Wanda and Vision weren’t hugely focused on in any of the movies they appeared in, the showrunners basically have a clean slate here to do what they want with the characters, which is wonderful because Olsen and Bettany are just such strong actors. Not only do they have fantastic chemistry with each other (which I’m so thankful Marvel have given more screentime with this series), but they handle the material in these two episodes wonderfully.
The series thrusts the two characters into classic sitcom-style scenarios, which the two clearly relish playing. Episode One is set in the 1950s, seeing Wanda, the dutiful housewife, forced to deal with Vision’s pompous boss and his wife coming over for dinner. What ensues is a collection of surprisingly hilarious comedy hijinks: mostly visual humour that perfectly emulates sitcoms of the era. Aside from a couple of small hints towards darker goings-on, there are very few clues that this is anything but a normal sitcom. There’s even an ad break halfway through!
Episode Two moves onto the 1960s, and follows Wanda and Vision as they prepare for the town talent contest, where they’re in line to do a magic act. For the first half of the episode, the two are split up, with Wanda attending a planning meeting and coming up against the indomitable Dottie (Emma Caulfield) and Vision visiting the neighbourhood watch, where he tries chewing gum for the first time and gets himself into a spot of bother.
It’s a very traditionally comedic setup, but throughout the episode there are a lot of hints that this black-and-white sitcom world isn’t all it seems. From a red toy helicopter Wanda finds in a bush and an explosive encounter with Dottie, to the appearance of a mysterious beekeeper at the episode’s close, there are lots of hints that something strange is going on: a truly tantalising mystery that I can’t wait to see play out over the course of the next seven episodes.
Teyonah Parris debuts here as Geraldine, a citizen of Westview who Wanda becomes friends with. While her performance is strong and the character likable, there’s not much for her to get her teeth into this episode. Of course, as revealed in various trailers, we’ll be seeing more of Parris as the series progresses, which I look forward to.
Kathryn Hahn stars in both episodes as Wanda and Vision’s neighbour, Agnes: the only major character apart from Wanda and Vision to carry over from the premiere. She too gives an astonishingly good performance, slightly altering her characterisation of Agnes between episodes to fit with the change in time period.
The production values on this show are very high indeed. The director, Matt Shakman, goes to incredible lengths to make sure that the show holds up to the sensibilities of a modern audience, while also ensuring that it looks like an authentic 1950s/60s sitcom. As you might expect, the episodes are in black and white, and have a laugh track, but Shakman also ensures that the special effects are of the era too, being either practical or sufficiently rough-and-ready that they look authentic.
Overall, these two episodes are an incredibly strong start to the MCU‘s Disney+ presence, giving life to two lesser-seen Marvel characters and thrusting them into a completely tonally different world. Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany give absolutely standout performances, while Kathryn Hahn brilliantly rounds off the main cast in her role as the cheeky, wisecracking Agnes. Well-directed, well-written, and both funny and intriguing in equal measure, the first two episodes of WandaVision definitely bode well for the future of Marvel on television. Highly recommended
WandaVision is now streaming on Disney+ and continues with a new episode next Friday