HEAT VISION

'WandaVision:' What the Critics Are Saying

The first Marvel Studios series for Disney+ debuts on the service Friday, but it's a slow beginning for 'Avengers' fans, according to early critical reaction.

The reviews for Marvel Studios’ first Disney+ series, Wandavision, are in. Judging by early reviews, Wandavision is fascinating, but flawed — especially for audiences who’ll have to watch it on a weekly basis as it’s first released, as opposed to the inevitable binge-viewing after the fact.

Still, critics were almost unanimous in their praise of the cast, and especially the chemistry between Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda and Paul Bettany’s Vision, reprising their roles from countless Marvel movies at this point. The attention to detail in recreating the look and feel of classic sitcoms from television history was also repeatedly mentioned favorably… but when it came to the actual content of the three episodes released to critics, reactions were a little more mixed.

“Even with its slow-building sense of menace, WandaVision has more in common with a meta-sitcom like Get a Life or That's My Bush — half-hours built around tweaking the conventions of the format — than a comic book show,” writes The Hollywood Reporter’s Daniel Fienberg. “It's like Marvel's Too Many Cooks, in reference to the 2014 viral short in which the credits for an ultra-sunny TGIF-style sitcom begin to fold in on themselves and become a postmodern nightmare. Did I find this delightful? Often! Is there a core demo this will flummox? To be sure!”

Michael Phillips from the Chicago Tribune feels as if the postmodern nightmare doesn’t go far enough. “WandaVision director Matt Shakman and head writer Jac Schaeffer go whole hog with the TV sitcom tropes, to the point of utilizing a laugh track in some cases, a live studio audience for the premiere and an aura of strained unreality throughout,” Phillips suggests. “It’s theoretically fascinating and, in practice, as one-third of a first season, strained in the extreme. Live or canned, the laughter all sounds canned and deadly, and it practically suffocates all three of the initial episodes. Bettany and Olsen have their charms, but their comic ease is AWOL, and the banter and interplay is never truly funny, or funny/scary, or funny/ironic, or ironic/scary/funny. It’s a premise stretched, like gum, across three episodes that should’ve been two, or even one.”

Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson was similarly unimpressed by the show’s pacing. ‘The trouble with WandaVision thus far is that as early as halfway through the first episode, we’ve pretty much gotten the joke in its entirety,” he argues. “Stretched out into three (and likely more) episodes, the stuck-in-a-TV-show premise starts to seem like a better idea for an interlude within something larger, rather than a whole thing unto itself. The surprise of seeing Olsen and Bettany — or, rather, Wanda and Vision — playing out these creaky roles, eyes gleaming with the beginnings of confusion and worry, wears off quickly. I found myself getting impatient — rather than intrigued — for the series to hurry up and tell us what’s going on.”

“With each installment, a few more cracks in the sitcom facade appear, but the bigger mystery is unveiled at an excruciatingly slow pace,” agrees Kelly Lawler from USA Today. “In the second episode, Teyonah Parris is introduced as mysterious neighbor Geraldine, but those who have been following Marvel casting news will know there's more to her than that. The third offers some tantalizing peeks at what might really be going on but stops short of explaining it. As a weekly series, it's an aggravating and unsuccessful structure.”

“After seeing the first three episodes, I think WandaVision is a show whose early going is going to seem better in hindsight, once it has some time to unspool,” suggests Vox critic Alex Abad-Santos. “The foundation the show is clearly working toward in the first three installments really comes to life in episode three — the oddities, the central mystery, and the very suspicious supporting characters all start to come together. I imagine that when everything starts locking into place, the first episodes will take on a new meaning. Until that happens, WandaVision’s debut is an intriguing, visually captivating world with a lot of question marks, one that’s full of potential but also requires a bit of patience.”

Not all critics felt as if the meta-textual approach towards sitcom nostalgia worked even as a distraction. Take, for example, IndieWire’s Ben Travers: “If WandaVision was just this — a throwback sitcom starring Olsen and Bettany — it would be glorious, like an episodic take on Down With Love, relishing the beloved structures of classic TV rom-coms while updating their outdated attitudes toward gender and race. But WandaVision has yet to engage with nostalgia in a meaningful way, nor does it fully embrace TV’s storytelling attributes. The first MCU series may be about television, but it still plays like an overinflated movie.”

“If WandaVision was going lean so far in the direction of vintage sitcoms, it might have benefitted from punchier scripts,” writes ScreenCrush’s Matt Singer. “It takes a long time for a clear picture of what’s going on behind Wanda and Vision’s televised domestic bliss to emerge. The tiny teases of the larger story behind WandaVision are intriguing, and promise a final six episodes that should be a lot more exciting and Marvel-y than these three. On their own, this very prolonged first act feels a bit like the sitcom equivalent of a synthezoid: A simulation of something so convincing it could almost pass for the real thing — almost.”

Does this mean that Wandavision is doomed to disappoint? Perhaps not, with many critics pointing out that the show’s final two thirds — which are certain to break down the larger mythology of the show and expand beyond the nostalgic reconstruction of its opening — will prove to be the deciding factor.

“With two episodes that are fun sitcom parodies and a third that ends as a vaguely horror-flavored take on a Marvel movie, WandaVision has the makings of what could be a riveting entry in the MCU canon,” writes The AV Club’s Sam Barsanti. “After all, where does a TV show go when it has already been madcap black-and-white sitcom, a slightly saucier high-concept comedy, and a super-powered mystery with possibly enormous repercussions for the wider universe? It’s hard to say, because such a feat’s never really been done before, and it only makes sense now because of the seemingly bottomless — yet often sparingly utilized — storytelling potential of the MCU.”

WandaVision debuts Jan. 15 on Disney+.

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