December 2, 2021
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Life & Culture

Review: Marvel anti-hero series captures retro aesthetic

WandaVision

Disney+

“WandaVision” is the newest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, currently streaming on Disney+. Instead of the usual summer blockbuster action, this miniseries is more of a character study about anti-hero Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), also known as the Scarlet Witch. Throughout the nine episodes, Wanda tries to keep her home of Westview, NJ — and herself — together. Surrounding all of this is a touch of retro TV aesthetic.

The most captivating aspects of “WandaVision” are its tribute to older TV shows and the overarching mystery of Westview and who Wanda is. The first episode, “Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience,” has charm and wonder as Wanda and her android husband, Vision (Paul Bettany), navigate their “I Love Lucy”/”Bewitched”styled world. Questions quickly arise when Wanda and Vision struggle to answer how they settled into Westview in the first place.

Wanda herself doesn’t know how she created this world. Yet, once she realizes she has control over it, Wanda refuses to leave. This introduces serious yet important themes including loss, grief and love. The more Wanda travels through each TV era, the closer her repression and pain reaches the surface. Instead of facing her problems, Wanda pushes her feelings back down, desperately trying to keep her happy home life intact. What Wanda doesn’t realize, though, is that she is hurting the townspeople in the process, causing more harm than good.

The production sets, special and practical effects, cinematography and music for each TV time period are impressive. Director Matt Shakman did an amazing job immersing the audience into this fantastical and constantly changing world. Small details like the aspect ratio shifting when the storyline moves from inside the world of Westview to the outside world shows how much care went into this series.

The acting is superb. Olsen does a fantastic job interweaving emotions as her character experiences tranquility and turmoil. In turn, Wanda feels real and relatable. Bettany as Vision was a pleasant surprise. Bettany’s comedic skills truly excel in episode two. Vision gets gum stuck in his interior mechanics, which causes him to be in a drunken stupor. The chemistry between Wanda and Vision is endearing and authentic. In episode eight, “Previously On,” their relationship shines in a flashback conversation as the two discuss loneliness and sorrow. This is a standout in the season, as the audience learns about Wanda’s backstory and where her grief and love of vintage TV come from. 

The most entertaining character is nosy neighbor Agnes (Kathryn Hahn). Hahn’s presence and humor steal every scene she is in, like when she passes a flask around to the other ladies at a committee meeting. 

On the outside of Westview is Sentient Weapon Observation Response Division (S.W.O.R.D.) and the FBI, trying to solve the anomaly Wanda created. S.W.O.R.D. captain Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) is sent to help out. Despite Wanda causing Monica anguish throughout the series, Monica is determined to help Wanda. She attempts multiple times to reenter Westview to reach Wanda, setting her up to have a meaningful role. Unfortunately, Monica’s presence falls flat and gets overshadowed toward the end of the series.

The supporting cast, while starting out strong, struggle in the end. Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and FBI agent James E. Woo (Randall Park) are part of Monica’s team. James ends up having so much potential, yet that potential is barely seen. He mostly delivers exposition and awkward comic relief. Darcy’s character is intelligent, funny and sassy. In fact, she is the one who finds out that Wanda is controlling Westview. However, she seems forgotten toward the last episodes. 

“WandaVision” is an excellent addition to the Marvel universe. It takes a diverging approach to the superhero genre, and it works fantastically. People who don’t prefer Marvel can find enjoyment in Wanda’s complex personal journey or exploring each TV realm from episode to episode. Even more, the after-credits scene leaves Wanda’s story open, causing excitement over what’s next for the Scarlet Witch.