After more than 18 months of nothing from Marvel Studios (the longest gap between releases since the premiere of “Iron Man” as the studio’s first feature in 2008), “WandaVision” premieres on Disney+ on Friday, Jan. 15. The series, featuring the characters of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), is the first in a number of upcoming streaming series about smaller characters of the wildly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The first episode immediately drops viewers into a new world unlike anything Marvel fans have ever seen before. That is, unless you also happen to be a fan of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,“”Bewitched,” or “The Brady Bunch.” Inexplicably set within the confines of a world of classic sitcoms, “WandaVision” does its best to mix the wackiness of its television facade with the regularly expected elements of a comic book production. It’s a combination that doesn’t always work as well as the writers likely hope, but often creates moments that are fun simply because you wouldn’t find anything remotely similar elsewhere.
In watching the first three episodes of the nine-part series, it’s somewhat difficult to ascertain the target audience for the miniseries beyond those already familiar with Marvel properties. For the uninitiated Marvel viewer, a number of references will prompt confusion. Disney would seem to have recognized this since it recently released two seven-minute shorts on Disney+ under the title “Marvel Studios: Legends” to help catch everyone up on these characters’ journeys. As with most productions in the MCU, “WandaVision” is not impossible to follow along without all the details of the past 23 Marvel films, but some knowledge of it helps.
Casual superhero fans looking for fights and explosions could also be somewhat turned off by the show’s dedication to its premise. The series is accentuated by sitcom cliches like hammy jokes, cheesy commercials with Easter eggs and for a time is displayed in a black-and-white box with an old-fashioned 4:3 aspect ratio. Undeniably, it takes some time to get used to the direction of what might be Marvel’s strangest release yet.
It’s a bold choice to take something as important as the first Disney+ Marvel series in such an experimental direction. However, for a series that only airs a single 30-minute episode a week, many will likely be surprised by how little time it spends teasing the central question of why its characters are trapped in a television world for its first three episodes. While the weekly release model has served Disney+ well with “The Mandalorian,” some fans’ patience could be tested without a binge format for a slow-moving series like “WandaVision.”
Die-hard Marvel fans will most certainly take joy in watching two of the most powerful Avengers be thrown into completely uncharted territory. The typical Marvel formula isn’t obvious yet, at least in the first three episodes. Despite the zany and atypical plot at the center of the series so far, the characters of Wanda and Vision shine through just as audiences have known them for years.
All of the principal cast members are wonderful in their roles, especially Olsen and Bettany, who use the malleability of the show’s genre to portray entirely different sides of their beloved characters. Both get fantastic opportunities to stretch their comedic muscles in scenes that work well in “WandaVision,” but would feel out of place in any other Marvel production. New characters, like nosy neighbor Agnes (Kathryn Hahn), mean neighbor Dottie (Emma Caulfield) and mysterious neighbor Geraldine (Teyonah Parris), also present fun and dramatic clashes between hints of the “real” world within the MCU and the television world that Wanda and Vision now inhabit.
I don’t expect my enthusiasm for it to balloon beyond “enjoyable” anytime soon, but “WandaVision” offers something unique that has to be commended for its willingness to try something new and go all in on what makes it different.