It’s Game of Thrones season 8 all over again, and anyone who named their daughter after Wanda Maximoff must be having serious regrets.
I walked out of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness with a complicated set of feelings about Marvel’s handling of Wanda Maximoff, a character who has been put through the wringer to an absurd degree at this point. On the one hand, I can’t help but admire the sheer tenacity of taking an Avenger who just starred in her own wildly popular streaming series and not only making her a villain, but having her violently murder multiple beloved characters on screen.
On the other hand, the Wanda storyline still doesn’t sit right with me, especially coming off of WandaVision. It feels wildly at odds with the character’s treatment in that show to the point that it couldn’t be more obvious that the two stories were handled by different creative teams — and I don’t find it surprising that director Sam Raimi never even watched WandaVision. Ultimately, Marvel runs into almost the same exact issue that Game of Thrones did with Daenerys’ heel turn: it makes sense on paper, but the execution is rushed and jarring.
Sure, Wanda is a character who was introduced as kind of a villain, fighting with Ultron against the Avengers. But she quickly switched sides and joined them, and by the time of Captain America: Civil War, even accidentally killing a few people completely wrecks her emotionally. In WandaVision, Wanda may have enslaved a town in her sitcom fantasy, but her actions for the most part weren’t depicted as malicious. She didn’t seem fully aware of what she was doing all the time, and besides, she never ended up actually killing anyone. By the finale, it seems like Wanda has come to fully understand what she’s done and regret her actions, and she sets everyone free, accepting the fact that this will mean having to let go of Vision.
She made some real progress in doing so. And her actions may have been morally grey in that show, but there’s no question she’s a highly sympathetic protagonist. So it really comes out of left field when we realize early on in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness that not only is Wanda a villain, she might be one of the most evil people we’ve encountered in the MCU to date. What she does in this movie is unbelievably sick and twisted, and there is little hint of the Wanda we know in there as she’s going around indiscriminately murdering people — including people she’s just learned have children of their own. It’s not a gradual escalation, either. The very first time we see Wanda in action, she has no problem burning people alive.
The only thing holding me back from declaring this full-on character assassination is the tidy excuse the movie gives itself: the fact that Wanda’s mind has been corrupted by the Darkhold. We got a tease of Wanda using the book of the damned to find her children at the end of WandaVision, so fair enough. But I just don’t think that was enough setup if Wanda’s heel turn was going to be this extreme, nor do I think the movie does nearly a good enough job communicating to what degree Wanda is in control of her actions. Are we meant to understand she’s almost fully possessed by the Darkhold and isn’t making any of her own choices? Or is this mostly our Wanda doing these things, and it’s just that the Darkhold pushed her over the edge?
The former is the only way I can possibly justify any of Wanda’s behavior in this movie. But if this was the case, you’d think the film would provide us more to work with to make that clear — say, a moment here or there where we see the “real” Wanda trying to fight back the Darkhold’s influence, or even just more at the start of the movie showing how “our” Wanda descended to this point. But we get almost nothing other than a few broad statements about the Darkhold corrupting people.
In fact, the closing minutes of the movie seem to suggest Wanda had some degree of control all along, considering just seeing her children react to her with fear is enough to snap her out of it. It’s not as if there’s some ancient spell required to break the Darkhold’s control over her. So are we meant to believe regular old Wanda was in there the whole time with the ability to “wake up,” yet she didn’t while racking up a body count that puts Michael Myers to shame? I don’t buy it.
At the end of the day, Multiverse of Madness desperately needed a strong transition between depicting Wanda sympathetically, as the MCU did all the way up until the final minutes of WandaVision, to immediately positioning her like she’s a slasher villain, and the film’s lack of one is a failing. As much as I enjoyed it overall for allowing Raimi to really go full Raimi, it left me with an icky feeling that this is the place one of the most tragic characters in the franchise has been driven to — and possibly the place her story ends.
She’d better be alive. Nailing a redemption arc for Wanda that clarifies a lot of these questions about the Darkhold’s influence over her could retroactively fix almost all of this. To be honest, though, some of my big issues with her arc in the film are somewhat overshadowed by a different feeling: pure admiration that the MCU was even willing to attempt a storyline like this that would so clearly leave its audience feeling uncomfortable and likely create controversy. For as much grief as Marvel gets for not taking enough risks, turning a beloved Avenger into a murderous psychopath is a massive one I simply have to respect, even if the execution left something to be desired. Just think of this as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of U Mad-ness. Yes, I was a bit mad — and kind of impressed.