WandaVision review: This is the Marvel show we needed

WandaVision review
(Image credit: Disney Plus/Marvel Studios)

As I hit play on the first episode of WandaVision, I didn't know what to expect. As the credits rolled on episode 2, I quickly realized I regretted arguing that shows shouldn't release all at once, and then I googled "WandaVision release schedule," to learn how long we have to wait.

Not only is WandaVision my new favorite TV series (sorry, The Flight Attendant), but it is exactly what the Marvel Cinematic Universe (aka MCU) and Disney Plus need. After sad movies filled with the mourning of heroes lost in Avengers: Endgame, WandaVision is the weird, trippy and mysterious side-quest that serves as a Marvel palate cleanser on our way to more dramatic things. 

Editor's note: We enjoyed WandaVision so much that it won a 2021 Tom's Guide Award for the Best Streaming Service Original Show. Few other programs rose to its heights, and left us waiting for next week's episode as often.

So, let's dive into a mostly spoiler-free WandaVision review of the first two episodes to get you properly prepared for Westview, the seemingly-idyllic town where our heroes have found themselves living.

WandaVision is a weird, risky romp that works

Unlike some of the best Marvel movies — Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier come to mind — WandaVision does not stand on its own at all. While this may be frustrating to the rare Disney Plus subscriber that skipped an Avengers movie or two, it's not necessarily a bad thing.

Filled with Easter eggs and fan service, harking back to characters from previous movies and entities from Marvel Comics that have yet to hit the MCU, WandaVision is a mystery comedy. Yes, Avengers Wanda Maximoff and Vision seem have found themselves inside of a 1950s sitcom-like reality, and they don't know why, either. Everything, from the black-and-white color to the 4:3 aspect ratio, is wrong to our eyes trained on 4K HDR content. They're confused as well, constantly asking questions that don't get answered.

WandaVision review — this story is a bit confusing, and that's the point

(Image credit: Disney Plus/Marvel Studios)

Up until the end of the first episode, we get little in the way of a traditional Marvel story, but it still works. Instead, we get a traditional sitcom story where confusion about a dinner party leads to calamity. And by being so different than everything else the MCU has given us, WandaVision feels much more original, even with its derivative sitcom-referencing premise.

I just wonder what the younger folks — who didn't watch re-runs of I Love Lucy on Nick at Nite — will think of the format. That being said, the writing is solid, the pacing and dialogue are snappy and everything just fits well, even as nothing is "right." 

Paul Bettany is a revelation and delight as Vision

Say you're like me, and your previous exposure to Paul Bettany, who plays Vision, was minimal. The android Avenger never truly took center stage, and that changes in WandaVision. While Vision has his neat moments in episode 1, Bettany truly shines in a series of hilariously awkward scenes in episode 2, where he's trying to blend into the neighborhood to calamitous results.

Wandavision review: Bettany thrives

(Image credit: Marvel Studios via Twitter)

Bettany's comedic timing, and Vision's excellent banter with Wanda, are elements that were seemingly once reserved for the likes of Paul Rudd's work as Scott Lang (aka Ant-Man). 

This is also enabled by the fact that Vision is in his own Incognito Mode throughout the series, as Bettany goes sans-makeup to fit in. This allows for a more expressive performance, which is necessary to the story and for audience enjoyment.

WandaVision is definitely an MCU show

Throughout the first two episodes, you'll see and hear Easter eggs referencing characters and organizations seen in previous films. And we get our third MCU return with the character Monica Rambeau, last seen as a little girl in Captain Marvel and now an adult played by Teyonah Parris.

But eagle-eyed viewers will be able to find clues that can open up a lot of theorizing about what comes next and who's responsible for putting Wanda and Vision in this creepy cul-de-sac. And as was the case with Marvel movies, you won't want to turn off the first episode when the first credits hit, as there's a tease before the second set of credits roll.

A fantastic supporting cast completes the show

Kathryn Hahn (Parks & Recreation) is excellent as the gossipy Agnes, the first friend Wanda makes in this new town. And she's utterly essential to the storytelling, since Wanda doesn't really understand much about the era she's been dropped into, or what's going on — but Agnes knows everything, and can guide her along.

Episode 1 also introduces characters played by veteran actors Fred Melamed (A Serious Man) and Debra Jo Rupp (That 70's Show) who help ground the '50s retro vibe of the show with true-to-era performances.

Wandavision review

(Image credit: Disney Plus/Marvel Studios)

And then in episode 2, Emma Caulfield Ford (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer) shows up as the alpha housewife of Westview. As Dottie, Caulfield Ford threads the needle of being domineering yet aware of something afoot.

Just don't expect MCU mainstays Kat Dennings and Randall Park, who were previously announced for the series, to already be there. Seems like we have to wait for Darcy Lewis and Jimmy Woo.

WandaVision is not staying in the '50s for long

Don't worry if the first episodes are too retro for your taste. As you may have seen in the promo material, the series' color palette isn't permanently stuck on black and white. And I'm thankful, because too much of the same thing would get a bit stale after a while.

Somehow, the series will jump to what appears to be the 1960s and '70s, as seen in The Brady Bunch. Here's hoping we get to see Wanda and Vision at a Central Perk-like coffee house or the Seinfeld diner by the end of the season. 

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.