In the great Marvel vs. DC debate, my position has always been simple: No, thank you. Nothing about the Marvel or DC universe appeals to me. I get bored if an action scene lasts longer than 30 seconds, I have a low tolerance for carceral capitalist propaganda, and I hate the comic-book color palette full of sharp, loud shades of red, blue, and silver that superhero content favors.
I’ve seen one Marvel movie in my life: Black Panther, which I did enjoy (and which employed a different, far more pleasant palette and plot). No Marvel creation before or since has even remotely beckoned my interest.
Except now that’s no longer true. I watched the first two episodes of Marvel’s latest television endeavor, WandaVision, which premiered last week on Disney+, and I am obsessed. I’ll be honest, I was first drawn in by the title. I love the name Wanda — it makes me think of fairies and the fun kind of magic, like witches and enchanted forests. So when I heard someone say “WandaVision,” I immediately Googled it and was sold on the visuals on the “Images” tab.
I chose not to read anything about the premise of the show, which is described by Disney+ as “a blend of classic television and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in which Wanda Maximoff and Vision — two super-powered beings living idealized suburban lives — begin to suspect that everything is not as it seems.” That’s pretty vague, but it seems something tragic had happened to the married couple in one of the more recent Marvel movies. I would love to share with you what exactly that was, but as we’ve established, I haven’t seen any recent Marvel movies.
The next time my roommate and I were looking for something to watch, I suggested WandaVision. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew at least my eyes would be pleased by its “classic TV” aesthetic. And they were! First of all, Elizabeth Olsen. Looking at her flawlessly winged eyeliner produces more serotonin than any number of retweets, and the ’50s look really works for her. Her performance in the first two episodes has a similar energy to Rachel Brosnahan’s in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; she’s a polished, gracious, perfectly coiffed housewife, but she’s also kind of fun and wacky.
The styling and set design of WandaVision has more in common with Mrs. Maisel than it does with any other Marvel property. And while I’ve never seen a ’50s sitcom, everything from the way these episodes were filmed to details like the piping on Wanda’s day dress felt true to the source material. The dialogue, both in the writing and the acting, really does capture the vibe of what it’s emulating, and the viewing experience feels as if I’m peeling onion layers of my own entertainment: mildly funny ’50s-era humor, so many clothes I want to wear, whimsically applied magical abilities, and what seems to be a sweet, loving relationship between Wanda and Vision.
It’s also an unapologetically absurd show — at one point, a beekeeper emerges from a sewer — and while it’s literally black and white at first, it feels like a far cry from the orderly (figuratively) black-and-white world Marvel generally inhabits. Alas, it is a Marvel show and likely bound to descend the Marvel staircase into convoluted, vaguely imperialist plots. But the landing we’re on right now is in a different dimension. The plot basically revolves around a couple’s domestic life, whimsical soundtrack included. Every obstacle, miscommunication, and snafu is met with a laugh track.
Still, from the very beginning, we’re alerted that something is off here. In the first scene of episode one, Wanda and Vision notice that the day is marked on the calendar with a heart — but neither can remember what it signifies. It leads to high jinks, but also, why don’t either of these characters seem to know anything about their own backstory, or basic social cues?
You know who does know their backstory? Marvel. I worry that with every passing episode, the things I love about the show — the absurdity, the corny humor, the vintage looks — will fade away and be replaced with colorful spandex suits and heroic government agents. For now, however, I will bask in the glow of Kathryn Hahn’s emphatic jokes about her husband, Ralph.
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