‘WandaVision’ revives the MCU and rethinks what a film can be
The recently completed Marvel TV series on Disney+ managed to encapsulate all the good parts of film and serialized television
Now that its remarkable nine-episode run has concluded, it’s time to reflect on “WandaVision” and just how much storytelling has changed in the streaming era.
The limited TV series isn’t a new concept. “Twin Peaks” was initially supposed to be a self-contained, eight-episode TV event until it became a phenomenon and led ABC to ask for more. But that was before the advent of binge-watching, making a weekend marathon so commonplace that series like these have become their own genre.
“WandaVision” was doing this in the larger world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as a tentpole event aiming to keep and expand subscriptions for Disney’s streaming service. No pressure.
Series creator Jac Schaeffer went big, she went bold, and she made this jaded critic more deeply involved in the MCU than I have been in years. (You’ve had a week to watch the finale, so be warned: light spoilers are ahead.)
Even the show’s name is a clever double-entendre, a simple combination of the two lead characters, Wanda Maximoff and Vision (Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany giving two of the great acting performances in the history of the MCU). And, of course, the title mimics “television,” the central twist of the narrative that comes to life in a premiere that left a lot of fans baffled and this critic immediately hooked.
Yes, it was an “I Love Lucy”-style 1950s sitcom starring two of the most powerful entities in the universe. And one of them was, well, already dead. It was a sharp parody, complete with laugh tracks evoking the idyllic world of sitcoms from the era. But, of course, something more sinister was going on.
Subsequent episodes kept up the sitcom conceit and spanned decades. It was its own joy to see which sitcom would be picked to represent the decade. Kathleen Hanna singing a pop-punk song for “Malcolm in the Middle”-style opening credits? Put it in my veins.
But then the layers began to take shape. Was Wanda dealing with her grief over Vision’s death by creating an elaborate illusion for herself and holding an entire town mentally hostage? Yes. And no.
I loved the bizarre world of the beginning of “WandaVision” from the get-go, but as it grew more buzz, some people came on board later and, yes, binged to catch up.
With a lot of buildup from a growing audience and the standard need for payoff, “WandaVision” delivered a final act that was more similar to a traditional MCU movie, if a bit more satisfying than some of them.
But I’ll always believe the best way to watch it was as a weekly serial. I reveled in the sense of not really knowing what was going on but enjoying the ride. Fans had theories, as fans will do. Some of them paid off. Some of them didn’t. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t their story.
The full series reportedly had a budget roughly equivalent of recent feature-length MCU movies. It was spread out over six hours and nine episodes, but somehow it was still a movie with an extra layer of difficulty. There’s a film-style three-act payoff, but there was also a weekly arc typical of serial sitcoms, with a mini-cliffhanger every week.
Since I referenced the original “Twin Peaks” earlier, it’s worth mentioning that respected French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma named David Lynch’s 18-episode “Twin Peaks: The Return” the best film of the last decade, and I don’t have much argument with that.
The definition and concept of “film” is changing at a more rapid pace than any point in my lifetime.
At some point, I’ll likely take in “WandaVision” in a single sitting to see how it holds up, but it’s fair to call it the best six-hour film of the year.