Of Those Who is an independent newsletter of film criticism and moviegoing. Please visit the About page for a primer on what this is, support by sharing/subscribing, and feel free to send along any feedback.
Support Your Cinema(s) :)
(Writer’s note: Yes, this is a streaming tv series review, but all things considered with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I felt it’d be fun to explore this expansion onto smaller screens. And no, I won’t be tackling the Twin Peaks: The Return as cinema debate - at least not now… )
After some fun and very impressive IMAX 3D special engagements for preview clips from the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, Marvel Studios tried to one-up with a two-episode premiere cut of their new television show - set loosely within their cinematic universe - Inhumans, which had been shot specifically for large format. While visually grand, the experiment flopped due to lack of interest and, frankly, word of mouth around its overall quality. It took chances, but was a pretty painful experience to observe and absorb.
In the years since, streaming services have reigned and, with the introduction of Marvel’s home on Disney+, are only getting bigger and going more for broke. In this era of Covid-19, what was big is now going small and, almost literally, more intimate in their invasion of our spaces.
We’re now near two years since Spider-Man: Far From Home, and understandably (given the state of the world) are just now being introduced to Phase 4. How would they followup Peter Parker’s post-Endgame adventure? With another bold chance.
WandaVision follows the mysterious exploits of the newly arrived to town couple Wanda Maximoff and Vision, a woman who can bend reality with her mind and a walking man-computer-bot with phasing abilities. Of course, having followed the past several films in the long-running franchise series, we know who these individuals are - former Avengers who’ve suffered through much tragedy (including a stunningly brutal death) - but what we don’t know or understand yet is where they are now and why they’re here at all.
The town of Westview, over the first three episodes, shifts palettes from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s television sitcom format, borrowing some (or a lot) from title graphics and musical cues to the cinematography and compositions themselves. From a sheer appearance standpoint, Wandavision thus far looks unlike anything the MCU has produced prior. Some modern audiences may not fully appreciate the aesthetics or their nuances, which go above and beyond simple nostalgia and into stylistic replication and storytelling weapon, but that’s alright. Perhaps there’s room for Wikipedia research and Youtube watches in between streams?
Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany’s chemistry as Wanda and Vision respectively has grown considerably, especially considering they really only had two movies worth of a relationship. Here, they play the nuclear couple with delightful glee and, in the high points, slight but pronounced sadness. Clearly, something is wrong in/with this town, and it's not just some Blue Velvet-like inherent issue with suburbia. There’s a conspiracy afoot.
TV commercials break into the proceedings, dropping in clues and potential red-herrings, such as “Hydra” and “Strucker". Each of these episodes ends with a quick glance at something just past WandaVision’s existence, from outside observers and monitors to helicopters above and more. Juxtaposed with the decade’s past sitcom life, these brief moments of more familiar MCU territory are more welcome and much larger scale than normal. Aspect ratios widen, cameras move differently, and everything expands. It’s a simple trick, but one of grand impact for what is a major bet for Marvel Studios.
Where WandaVision goes from here will be debated for the next two weeks, but the show will likely, hopefully, continue its push towards a new avenue for the superhero genre, especially as it navigates the pixels inside our various screens. Serialized filmmaking is the “thing” now, and that’s fine. More than fine.
Just be careful. You’re past the previews now.