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WandaVision review: Marvel channels Lost for wonderfully weird Disney+ series

There’s a lot to like about the premiere of WandaVision, Marvel’s new Disney+ series set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, it provides a new chapter in the studio’s wildly popular, interconnected superhero saga and ends a drought of MCU projects dating back to 2019, but WandaVision isn’t just any new chapter in the MCU.

The new series set after the events of Avengers: Endgame is the most unexpected, fascinating project Marvel Studios has brought to the screen so far — which feels entirely appropriate after the chaotic time we’ve endured since the last MCU release.

Digital Trends got an early look at the first three episodes of WandaVision, which premieres January 15 on Disney+ and features Marvel actors Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprising their roles as Wanda Maximoff (aka The Scarlet Witch) and Vision, respectively. Created by Jac Schaeffer (co-writer on Captain Marvel and the upcoming Black Widow), WandaVision follows Wanda and Vision as they settle into an idyllic suburban life together, only to have their perfect existence begin to unravel in bizarre ways that suggest something sinister is afoot.

Mystery machine

With WandaVision, Marvel does an impressive job of channeling the enigmatic tone and creeping dread that have elevated more than a few TV series from popular programs to pop-culture talking points.

The series blends the incremental mysteries of Lost with a modern spin on the surrealism of The Prisoner, dropping Wanda and Vision into the center of a classic TV sitcom without any indication of the events that brought them from the somber conclusion of Endgame to the black-and-white, Mayberry-like community of Westview. Adding to the series’ mystery is the fact that the pair seem perfectly content in their new lives, blissfully unaware of their universe-saving past despite being in full control of their powerful abilities.

And like any good story that pits its featured characters against a reality that might not be altogether real, WandaVision takes its time in giving Wanda and Vision anything to question their new, flawless lives together. It would have been easy for Marvel to make the pair’s predicament clear from the start and then devote the rest of the miniseries to the ways they use their spectacular powers to escape whatever it is they find themselves inside, but Schaeffer and the series’ creative team wisely opt for a slow burn that draws you into the puzzling world the characters inhabit.

Laugh track (and then some)

As the telekinetic, telepathic, energy-bending Scarlet Witch and the density-manipulating android Vision, Olsen and Bettany were rarely given the chance to show much range in their performances during the MCU films in which they appeared. Outside of a few tender moments in Avengers: Infinity War, the pair’s unconventional fondness for each other was something we were informed of but it was rarely given any evidence to support.

In that respect, WandaVision fills in quite a few gaps in their MCU relationship — and showcases quite a bit more of the pair’s chemistry and range.

Olsen and Bettany are surprisingly comfortable riffing off each other through one classic sitcom trope after another. Whether it’s a misunderstanding that puts the pair in danger of messing up an important dinner date or a silly turn of events that makes the town’s talent show a recipe for disaster, the pair buy into the humor of WandaVision in all the best ways, and their commitment makes the series’ dramatic moments feel more impactful.

Striking the right balance between comedy, drama, and action has always been a hallmark of Marvel’s films, and WandaVision provides ample opportunity to deliver two of the three elements in the show’s first three episodes.

Something for everyone

While casual fans will probably find a lot to enjoy about the series without digging too deep into Marvel mythology — particularly if they’re caught up with the MCU events leading up to WandaVision — the show also provides plenty of material for the sort of audience that loves investigating every name-drop and background object the series offers up.

Although the series premiere seems most concerned with easing you into the world Wanda and Vision inhabit, subsequent episodes don’t shy away from dropping (sometimes literally) the occasional, cryptic clue or providing a few pauseworthy background elements to ponder. By the time the credits roll on the third episode, the mysteries have piled up — but so have the elements that will spark plenty of audience speculation and theories about where the titular duo’s story is headed.

So far, so good

While it’s unwise to judge a series based on just a third of the story, WandaVision is off to a great start in the first three episodes of the show’s nine-part saga. With its decision to put story before spectacle, the series feels quite a bit different from the rest of the MCU, and its willingness to take its time and leave the audience uncertain only adds to the show’s unique qualities.

We’ve seen the MCU test its boundaries in the past with films like Thor: Ragnarok and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which filtered Marvel stories through the lens of new genres, but nothing has taken the MCU as far into new territory as WandaVision. An enigma wrapped in a riddle and covered in a superhero’s cape, WandaVision is the sort of project that feels like something new and different — and maybe most importantly, risky — in a universe that rarely seems to stray too far from the formula that works.

Whether the WandaVision experiment is a success will likely depend on how well the series sticks the landing. Shows that rely on ratcheting up the mystery from episode to episode have a nasty habit of forgetting to answer any of the questions they raise in a satisfying way. There’s a long list of shows with promising early seasons, but history hasn’t been kind to projects that never deliver a way out of the narrative labyrinth they created.

At this point, though, Marvel has earned enough goodwill and trust for audiences to be optimistic about the direction in which WandaVision is headed. It’s been far too long since Marvel gave fans a new chapter of the MCU, but with WandaVision, it feels like that time was well spent.

You can watch WandaVision now on the Disney+ streaming service

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