WandaVision: A Magical Tribute to TV – Disney+ Review

Marvel’s first Phase Four series gives us an homage to the history of televised love.

SUMMARY

Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) is married to the android Vision (Paul Bettany), who is somehow back from the dead after having Thanos rip his head open. They now live in the town of Westview, New Jersey, which just so happens to mirror the setting of classic sitcoms, aging from the 1950s to the 2010s as the couple moves forward in their relationship. They regularly interact with their nosy neighbor Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) and eventually have two children named Billy and Tommy (Julian Hilliard and Jett Kline). At the same time, in the “real” world, S.W.O.R.D. Agent Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), and astrophysicist Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) attempt to find Wanda and end the strange things happening to Westview, while avoiding SWORD director Tyler Hayward (Josh Stamberg).

Yes, ’70s Wanda and Vision are swingers.

END SUMMARY

When Marvel announced they were shifting to television for their fourth phase, I admit that I wasn’t quite sure how to feel. I liked Agents of SHIELD, but it was fairly inconsistent in terms of storytelling. Some arcs were amazing, others felt like they just ran out of ideas and were pulling from broad genre tropes that they forced in. Agent Carter felt more coherent, but it also got cancelled pretty quickly. The announcement of WandaVision initially excited me, but then I got worried that maybe the show would just be an excuse to do some hackneyed jokes based around the idea of the two characters living in a sitcom. Fortunately, this show focused just as much on the mystery as it did on the sitcom elements, which kept the series from overusing the premise. 

I do think it’s weird that NO agent of SHIELD showed up in the series.

Part of what makes it work is that the show plays the corny sitcom tropes completely straight for most of the first episode. That season is the 1950s and most of the jokes are, appropriately, pratfalls or bland and non offensive observations. If you rewatch most of the shows from that period that aren’t the Dick Van Dyke Show or I Love Lucy, a lot of shows largely relied on the novelty of just performing on television to make the spectacle enjoyable. Both Bettany and Olsen do a great job of duplicating the speaking and reaction style that were hallmarks of most of the shows during that period. As the show gets closer to the present, through the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, the jokes from the “sitcoms” get more modern and better crafted, for the most part, but they also become more rare because the “fourth wall” gets progressively destroyed, starting with a moment that is deeply out of character at the end of the first episode. However, for at least the first two episodes, there are only a few minutes that appear to be anything outside of the sitcom, which really helps keep the balance between the show and the show within the show.

Also, kudos to the costumers and set designers. Great stuff.

The supporting cast ranges from classic sitcom guests like Fred Melamed, Debra Jo Rupp, and Emma Caulfield to the recurring “real world” cast of FBI and SWORD agents. It’s interesting in that we see both the “sitcom” version of the characters as well as their “real” versions and they are deeply different, in a way that reflects how dour reality is compared to the curated image of life that used to permeate television. It is compounded by the fact that, when their true selves show, they are dealing with having been essentially imprisoned by having their wills supressed. Some of the scenes of this are played darkly straight and make the entire situation seem even more disturbing. As far as the “real world” cast goes, Parris, Park, and Dennings are a near perfect balance of comic relief and competent supporting character. None of them are stupid, they’re just believably quirky people who have their own motivations and flaws. I will say I look forward to Parris becoming a superhero in future installments.

I am surprised that Kitty Foreman wasn’t in the 1970s episode, though.

I will admit that I regret not reviewing this show earlier, but I felt like I could not appropriately give praise to the best parts of the show without spoilers, and I wanted to give a week for that period to pass. So, SPOILER WARNING:

Kathryn Hahn is a god-given treasure to this show (and, let’s face it, any show she’s on). She not only plays the neighbor Agnes for most of the series, which was one of the more amusing and consistent parts of the “television show” illusion, but is revealed to be the witch Agatha Harkness, who essentially manipulated Wanda so that she could steal her powers. Hahn is not only clever, but her snarky delivery makes her likable even when she is acting as the villain. I’m hopeful that Marvel continues to use her. Another notable casting decision was Evan Peters as “Ralph Bohner,” an actor who is cast by Agatha as Quicksilver, Wanda’s brother. Peters played the character in the X-men Universe and, while it was kind of a let down that this wasn’t actually the alternate universe version of the character, it was still a great nod to the X-Men series by the creators.

Greatest. Character. Intro. Ever.

Overall, just a great series. If you haven’t watched it, or you quit after the first episode, give it another shot.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Color out of Space: A Solid Adaptation of Lovecraft

Nicolas Cage stars in this adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft done by the famed not-director of The Island of Dr. Moreau. It’s awesome.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

The film is narrated by a hydrologist named Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight). Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) moves his family to a rural farm in Massachusetts after his wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson) survives cancer, deciding to start growing tomatoes and raising alpacas (for the milk, apparently). His children are handling the situation in various ways: His daughter, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), takes up Wicca to try to keep her mother’s cancer away; his eldest son Benny (Brendan Meyer) starts smoking pot with local hermit Ezra (Tommy “Cheech and” Chong); and his youngest son Jack (Julian Hilliard) spends most of his time just playing with his dog, Sam.  

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They look so happy. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

One night a meteor crashes into their front yard. The meteor glows an unnatural color and emits a terrible smell before being struck by lightning. What follows is high strangeness. 

END SUMMARY

I wanted to editorialize a little bit on the story, so if you just want the film, skip down.

ON THE SHORT STORY

So, if you’ve read “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft, good news, this movie changes enough of the story and adds enough creativity to still keep everything interesting. If you haven’t, it’s really short and pretty solid. It’s definitely one of the least controversial Lovecraft stories and it’s one of the most adapted and influential, up there with “The Dunwich Horror” and “Herbert West, Reanimator.” It got a bit more press than many of his previous works because it was selected as one of the Best American Short Stories the following year, just as Lovecraft’s more famous “The Call of Cthulhu” was published. It’s got a great blend of Sci-Fi and Horror elements and, as is typical with Lovecraft, it bombards you with multiple levels of unease that culminate at cosmic. You can read it here, because copyright law has set it free. 

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So many movies about meteor strikes seem to derive from this.

Also, Lovecraft was a racist bastard. I feel that everyone who does a review of an adaptation of him should probably mention that he was a brilliant and influential author, but also a racist bastard. He’s not getting paid for adaptations and, much like this movie, his works can produce interesting and entertaining derivations, so let’s keep them going, but we should still acknowledge that even by 1920s standards he was pretty damned racist. Okay, now to the film:

FILM REVIEW

First, how exactly has Nicolas Cage never been in an adaptation of Lovecraft before? One of the hallmarks of Lovecraft is a type of madness that usually comes from trying to grasp a concept that the human mind simply is not capable of accepting. While this might be difficult to convey for some actors, THAT’S NICOLAS CAGE’S DEFAULT. Nicolas Cage always seems like he’s living in a reality that’s rotated about 20 degrees from our own. There’s a scene in Ghost Rider where Cage “relaxes” by eating jelly beans out of a martini glass while watching internet videos of monkeys doing karate and he somehow makes it seem believable. In Mandy, Cage manages to give a heartfelt and emotional performance which he follows up with a chainsaw duel. He’s basically the perfect person to convey the madness that comes from forbidden knowledge or trying to perceive the impossible.

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This man knows altered realities.

The film does a good job of attempting to convey a concept that just can’t be related visually: Imagining a new color. In Lovecraft’s story, the meteor’s color is described only in analogy because it doesn’t fall anywhere on the visual spectrum. In this film, even though the color is represented by an unnatural neon pinkish hue, they use it in such a way that it does feel like it’s part of something ineffable. It’s significant that Cage sells the sensation of something “else” happening to him as he looks at it, making us feel like reality and logic start to get burned away by the glow. 

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It’s so well done.

That’s not to say that Cage’s performance is the only good one in the film. Actually, all of the actors who portray the family members do a good job of showing their various descents into madness caused by the color. Each of them has their own take on the decline of their sanity, but they all work. Tommy Chong plays a character who already lives in an altered state, which… well, is perfect for Tommy Chong, but he also does a good job showing his character’s greater ability to perceive things outside of the Earthly realm due to it. 

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He’s been preparing for this his whole life.

The special effects in this film are sufficiently unnerving. There are things that are horribly disturbing that are both implied and also shown. If you’re someone with a queasy stomach, this movie is not for you. It also helps that they are used sparingly. The pacing of the movie, much like a Lovecraft story, is unnervingly slow and deliberate. It starts off with almost nothing happening, but the fact that nothing is happening is itself tense because of the atmosphere. Even when stuff starts to happen, it’s very gradual but it keeps building from slightly supernatural all the way to cosmic horror. 

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This film has some epic horror moments.

Kudos to Director Richard Stanley for managing to do such a good job capturing Lovecraft. He says that this is the first of a trilogy and I hope that’s true, because I would love to see more quality adaptations of cosmic horror. Hell, put Cage in all of them. I won’t complain. It’s also good to see him come back to film after having famously been fired three days into filming The Island of Dr. Moreau, a movie that failed so hard the Documentary about his experience is called Lost Soul. Stanley supposedly loved the H.G. Wells story and was passionate about that project, but he apparently had a huge connection to Lovecraft all of his life, and this film captures a lot of that. 

Overall, I really liked this film. I recommend it for fans of Cage, fans of Lovecraft, or fans of body horror. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.