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A different sort of superhero

(Marvel Studios)

Television

A different sort of superhero

WandaVision surprises with creativity and marriage messaging

Give executive producer Kevin Feige and the Marvel team credit for this: They are willing to take a risk on a creative vision. 

We saw this when Taika Waititi bucked expectations from previous Thor movies for a stalwart, iron-jawed hero. Instead he made Ragnarok into a goofy buddy comedy. We saw it when the studio not only gambled on bizarre characters from a minor comic with almost zero name recognition (Guardians of the Galaxy), then handed the reins over to a little-known horror director (James Gunn). And now, having transformed superhero movies from the gritty Sturm und Drang of Batman to lighthearted extravaganzas, Marvel has taken yet another unexpected turn: downsizing and going introspective with perhaps its strangest offering to date, WandaVision.

The Disney+ series, airing in weekly installments like The Mandalorian, couldn’t lean any further into its small-screen stature without falling over. 

When we left Wanda Maximoff, aka the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), in Avengers: Endgame, the infinity stones had resurrected her from Thanos’ cosmic death snap. Her android love, Vision (Paul Bettany), however, was killed before the great disintegration, and can therefore ne’er return. 

The first episode of WandaVision offers no bridge from the couple’s final separation except what we can infer from the fantasy setting—a black-and-white, laugh-tracked sitcom à la I Love Lucy or Dick Van Dyke. The next two episodes update the period incrementally, going from a Bewitched-style backdrop to something more like The Brady Bunch. But the false cheeriness and contrived dilemmas don’t alter, except when a bossy neighbor breaks character to telegraph something like real terror through her pleading gaze. Or when an eerie voice with a decidedly modern accent comes through the old RCA radio. 

Marvel Studios

(Marvel Studios)

But these are all the disruptions of a moment, easy to dismiss when you have a superhero’s ability to bend reality. A quick snap of Wanda’s fingers and it’s back to whipping up a last-minute magical dinner to impress the boss so hubby can win the big promotion. 

We can only guess at this point, but it seems plain Wanda is hiding in the place so many of us go to when facing loss or pain, into the imaginary worlds of television. The central mystery rolls out slowly, allowing us to get lost in the superficial plotlines just as Wanda does. 

It’s understandable if, upon first seeing the initial “Pleasant Valley Sunday” setting, you brace yourself for a commentary on the oppressive nature of marriage circa 1950. Or glass ceilings circa 1970. But WandaVision isn’t interested in any of that. Through Wanda and Vision’s relationship we see a surprisingly touching tribute to that earthly institution Scripture calls the grace of life. The idyll Wanda escapes to is a traditional marriage to the man she loves, complete with homemaking and children. No one is sneering at suburbia here.

In fact, in the first three episodes, with the exception of a stray minor profanity here, a subtle off-color joke there, this is all the PG—nearly G-rated—world we remember from Leave It to Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show

With no fight scenes and no special effects, so far at least, this isn’t a show about saving the world. It’s about building a family. Which, in its own way, amounts to the same thing.

Comments

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  • James C Williams
    Posted: Fri, 01/29/2021 11:05 am

    Sorry to be pendantic, but the "grace of life" in 1 Pt. 3:7 seems not to refer to the earthly institution of marriage, but the heavenly inheritance (cf. 1 Pt. 1:4, 10) to which husbands and wives may be joint heirs.  Otherwise, a solid review.  Looking forward to seeing how the show develops from here. Thanks!

  • SP
    Posted: Sun, 01/31/2021 10:43 pm

    Thanks for this, Megan. I appreciate your take on the show. We just watched #4 and are hoping the tone and theme you mention will continue as the story evolves.