The highly-anticipated blockbuster seems to be mostly praised by fans who have eagerly awaited the return of the MCU versions of Doctor Strange, Wanda Maximoff the Scarlet Witch, and a particular focus on magic and the weird. But does the film deliver a great adventure easy to enjoy, or beautiful gowns with little substance?
There will be massive spoilers for Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness. If you wish to avoid spoilers, please watch the movie before reading this article. Also, if it’s not obvious by the title, this will be an examination of the film’s negative qualities and will not be positive, so if you enjoyed it and don’t care to see any criticisms or complaints against it, this article is not for you.
Still here? Let’s dive in.
Cumberwack is Still Wack, and Doctor Strange is Still A Mighty Whitey
I consistently call this man “Cumberwack” because he’s overrated beyond measure and because his real-life family were all slave owners. He would go on to play a major slave owner in 12 Years a Slave alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor as the main protagonist and real-life person and author Solomon Northup. The two would ironically go on to once again play adversaries in the first Doctor Strange movie as Stephen Strange/Dr. Strange and Karl Mordo. Cumberwack’s background and ease in playing a role his ancestors played in real life might not be the most germane to the conversation about this movie, but it still nevertheless leaves a bad taste in my mouth whenever I see his face or hear his name.
But about the character himself is his fucked up backstory of white exceptionalism. Stephen Strange, much like Danny Rand aka Iron Fist, is a white man who went to an Asian region to beat out every other native member of these places to literally be the best and achieve greatness over them. This is the cornerstone of the Mighty Whitey stereotype: where a white person can be a novice and outsider but by virtue of being white and persistent can and will be the best, even over people who are native to the lands that the white people travel to in order to be special. Batman is also, unfortunately, a perpetrator of this trope, for he too traveled to foreign lands to acquire world-class martial arts and other survival skills (though whether he is truly the best varies depending on who you ask or what version or writer says so).
Stephen became the sorcerer supreme in both the comics and the MCU over everyone else who was studying magic for so much longer than him, perhaps even their entire lives. Rand won the right to fight and slay the dragon to claim the power of the iron fist. In their stories, in particular, they take on a level of yellow fever (appropriation of Asian culture) that is baffling. That was why many fans wanted to see an Asian actor cast as Danny Rand/Iron Fist, to eliminate the mighty whitey trope as well as yellow fever. Doctor Strange should too have been Asian if we’re keeping it a buck. Even more egregious than Strange himself was the whitewashing of the Ancient One in the MCU. Tila Swinton, while a true talent, should be shamed. Michelle Yeoh or Lauren Tom was right there if we wanted to gender-bend.
While these things apply to Cumberwack himself (real-life background), and the backstory of Strange as explored in the first movie, I mention these things to highlight the fact that I was never there to see either of them. I was here expressly to see the Scarlet Witch, Wanda Maximoff.
The Vilification and Dichotomousization of Wanda Maximoff and the Scarlet Witch
I have been a fan of the Scarlet Witch for most of my life. She has always been one of the most fascinating characters in all of comics who has toed the line between action girl and damsel, hero and villain. Originally a reluctant member of the very first Brotherhood of Mutants under Magneto, and alongside her twin brother Pietro Maximoff aka Quicksilver, the two paid a debt to the Master of Magnetism before quickly leaving the Brotherhood and joining the Avengers. The MCU did a version of this sort of backstory: Wanda and Pietro were willing members of Hydra and worked with Ultron before defecting to the Avengers when Wanda saw the robot’s plan to destroy the entire world. Yes, even Wanda who hated Tony Stark for his hand in destroying her home and killing her parents, rose to the occasion when she saw humanity and lives were at stake. Wanda became a new Avenger, a hero. I won’t get into her mistakes and how she experienced extreme loss all her life, as well as the ways she tried to be a hero despite that loss, I wrote an entire article on it you can read here. Instead, I’ll focus on what this movie did.
I’m sick and tired of projects like the MCU, the FOX-Men (FOX’s X-Men film series), and Game of Thrones having me defend white women. I was not put on this earth to do that, and yet I find myself having to do it time and time again because of the gaslighting and fuckery. The worst part about it all is that even comics have been doing this weird thing of having women characters who are heroic becoming all-powerful, becoming either unable to control their power or being completely unhinged to the point where they must die to end the threat, usually by their own hand or by a man. It’s insulting. Watching Wanda turn evil, irrevocably so, after mastering her powers and learning she even was magical only for her to read one book and turn evil, was a slap in the face for all the nuance we had in WandaVision. But let’s not forget the creators behind this movie didn’t even watch the series, which certainly shows. Where was Vision? Why was he completely ignored in her motivation and erased in her mind? Vision was the main reason she even wanted kids at all, because she wanted a family that included him and their love story was the best the MCU has done, to date. Also, was there no universe where Wanda and Vision were together with their children? Why would she pick one where she was raising them alone? Even when she was doing bad things in that series, she never killed anyone or wanted to. Plus now all of a sudden she’s just straight-up murdering people left and right? Even ignoring the comics, Wanda in the MCU never displayed a wanton disregard for human life. And caulking it all up to “wElL thE dArkhOlD mAkEs yOu eViL,” is just lazy writing.
And what is this obsession with having the woman’s power be a separate entity from herself? Wanda Maximoff IS the Scarlet Witch. It is a title, but it is who SHE is, and yet this movie treats it like it’s an evil split personality, which gave distinct Jean Grey/Phoenix vibes in X-Men: The Last Stand. Wanda, Jean, and even Daenerys from Game of Thrones were all examples of majorly popular women characters who were heroic, went “cRaZy” and had to be killed off to stop them. Everything they did as heroes or at least complex individuals was completely invalidated because they suddenly all became mass murderers and were now scary. While Dany may not have had an alternate personality, her mental illness was used as an excuse to justify her “evil” and need to die in the most disgusting of ways. She got to die by the hand of her love interest/nephew, the ever-so-milquetoast Jon Snow. Jean, despite having the power to completely obliterate him, was killed by Wolverine, who the movies loved to make the top-dog hero of the entire franchise when it should have been about the X-Men team as an ensemble. Also, his stupid-ass healing factor ain’t doin’ shit against her level power, that was some straight-up bullshit, for real. And finally, after being willing to kill innocents, heroes, and a teenage girl, Wanda sees the error of her ways, burns up every version of the Darkhold in the multiverse… and also decides to bring down an entire stone fortress on top of herself..?
Wanda Deserved Better
I did enjoy the performance of Elizabeth Olsen throughout the movie but hated the way they wrote her character. I felt the only sliver of nuance came when she was confronted with her sons being afraid of her. The scene was powerful. Unfortunately, it was the only shred of nuance that was offered to her throughout the entire movie. Right out the gate, she’s just unhinged and bloodthirsty. Yes, she got to be powerful AF and be feared, which was cool to see, but her being completely and utterly villainized was beyond annoying. Furthermore, why was her magic limited to telekinesis, red-energy blasts, one moment of mind control, and flying? What happened to her reality warping? Was I rolling my eyes so hard and so frequently that I missed it completely? And given her level of power, why did she need America’s power to travel the multiverse? Is magic so limited in the MCU that they don’t even have any spells for interdimensional travel? The ghetto…
And I understand they wanted a reason for America and the heroes to be at odds with Wanda, but I found it baffling that they not only tied America’s powers to her life but that Wanda would be written to be willing to kill a young girl just to get what she wanted, given her backstory and experience with loss. Wanda lost her parents at a very young age, she lost her brother, the love of her life three times (including by her hand once, because she had no choice). and her children. When I complain about the assassination of Wanda’s character, I’m actually referring to the MCU version we were given and have followed all these years. Even at her very worst, Wanda was not a killer. And again whether or not you want to chalk it up to the Darkhold, it still is a betrayal to the character and also says that everything she did or tried to do was invalidated because she read one fucking book. The writers leaned into Wanda’s femininity (the desire to reach/protect her children at all costs) in the most disgusting way they could. And now she’s dead. Even if they find a way to bring her back, what can they possibly do with her now besides make her a villain again? It’s cartoonish, one-dimensional, and sexist as hell.
Also, fuck Strange for gaslighting Wanda by telling her that her children weren’t real. I have also pushed back against fans who said the same thing in WandaVision. Her kids were real then and are now, they exist in the multiverse, and she had literally used magic to conceive and give birth to them. Her power is to make the impossible happen and she did just that. Fall back and fall off calling her children “imaginary”. Stranger things have happened in the comics, in fiction, and yes, even in the MCU.
Why Did They Use America This Way?
Why do people continue to give Marvel passes over colorism, sexism, anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiment, antiblackness, and the like? America is just the latest of very, very bad and questionable casting, but again, this isn’t the first time the MCU or the comics themselves have done this, even with this very same character. For transparency, I have yet to read anything with America Chavez in it, but I am aware of the character and how she has been portrayed. Generally, she is much darker-skinned and has a much curlier hair texture. The MCU went out of its way to cast the lightest-skinned and straightest-haired person they could. Furthermore, her relatively younger age is giving Disney Channel instead of the confident and sexy bombshell that seems to be the character in the comics (again, just from what I can suss out. Let me know in the comments if I’m wrong). But as I was grabbing pics online for this article I noticed that there were times when America was drawn to be lighter and have straighter hair. This is annoying because it gives the MCU and other adaptations an out to explain away, “well we took inspiration from this comic where she looked like this…”. It’s giving Roberto Da Costa/Sunspot in X-Men: Days of Future Past and New Mutants.
Again, I don’t really know this character but I know what her powers are supposed to be. Why was she running when she should be flying? Why did it take two-thirds of the movie before we (and worst yet she) learned she had super strength? Why was this a power she didn’t know she had? Why are her powers tied to her lifeforce? Depowering is such a thing in comics and fiction and there is absolutely no reason why being depowered should kill anyone (unless your power is used to keep you alive, like how Wolverine’s healing factor stops him from being poisoned by the adamantium in his bones and bloodstream). They just wanted a reason to villainize Wanda and raise the stakes for America and the others to stop her from getting what she wanted. And when I told some folks about not liking this or the fact that once again the MCU decided to power down another female character, I was told “this is Doctor Strange’s movie” and “this is fine for an introduction for America Chavez, she can grow later”. But to that I say: why did they need to introduce America Chavez, a character who is a very big deal and a top-tier hero who means a lot to a lot of modern comic book fans in a fucking Doctor Strange movie??? And I don’t care who the protagonist is, I am sick and fucking tired of women being scaled-down and underpowered to make the men around them look cooler. If you can’t introduce this character in a way that makes her either comparable to her comics version or improves upon it (which this version, even to my eye and what little I know, did not do), maybe don’t fucking use that character! Make it work or make someone else up! Plus, the character we got was way less queer than she should have been, but that’s to be expected from conservative Marvel.
When I noted America not even be alluded to as being queer or her queerness being established in any noticeable or meaningful way, someone pointed out how “well” her mothers were done. Well, me having zero knowledge of America or her family, I was inclined to agree that they were shown at all. Thankfully my sister reached out to me to express support and agreement over this wack-ass movie, the sexism, and the like as well as give me some much-needed background on America and her mothers. Apparently, her moms didn’t die (or at least get spirited away) because America got scared by a fucking bee. Instead, they apparently died via heroic sacrifice, which would have been way more impactful and less fucked up than a girl basically accidentally killing her parents because she got scared… by a bee. A bee? BEE!?! And some of y’all still love this shit? I don’t understand it. Explain it to me.
I also took major issue with America needing some white dude telling her to believe in herself before she could control her power. Why couldn’t she find her strength within herself or remember something her mothers said to her or literally anything else? And side note, Wanda was able to easily massacre the Illuminati including Captain Marvel but was having some trouble with America..? Again, I don’t know the character, but is her strength comparable to a Captain Marvel..? But it’s whatever, I understand that’s meant to be her big hero moment, so we couldn’t have Wanda just wash her the way she washed everyone else. Plot armor be plottin’.
The Ethnic Representation in This Movie was Abysmal, Especially Black Representation
I am not one to excuse bullshit. And this was some bullshit. Let’s begin with Wong. Wong, the new sorcerer supreme gets to do very little and needs help constantly. He showed so much more skill in Infinity War when he was using portals as weapons when here he uses a magical whip (or whatever that thing was, I’m tired) and gets grabbed and needs Strange to pull out the victory. And while he, and no one, should have been able to stand up to Wanda, he was a very poor showing for a sorcerer supreme. Wong is one of the main people who should have had the better possibility of being sorcerer supreme from the get-go because he was studying magic (and respected the culture, for it was his own) longer than Strange, but again Mighty Whitey. Wong could have been removed and the movie wouldn’t have even noticed. He was wasted and useless.
In speaking of wasted, they brought in the Illuminati and wasted them all. While I admit I chuckled at Wanda taking away Black Bolt’s mouth (but not his death, even though I have no fucks to give for the Inhumans, as Marvel once tried and miserably failed to have them replace the X-Men), I hated how wasted everyone was. It was fanservice for fanservice sake and it was a total wash. I knew Wanda was the most powerful and should win, but I didn’t think it should happen so easily, especially against Maria. Also no mention of Wanda knowing Maria’s daughter? I suppose Wanda didn’t know or care who she was and likely wouldn’t have cared that she was Monica‘s mother who had died in her universe (the two having experienced loss). Let me rephrase: this Wanda wouldn’t have cared either way, but the Wanda we knew before this movie would have, and wouldn’t have killed her or anyone else. I just hate that she died by a statue falling on her when Captain Marvels have near-invulnerability and Carol was shown getting punched in the face by Thanos himself and feeling nothing. But it’s finally the Black girl and she gets crushed? And to the people saying she was “just knocked out” or not dead, does she show up again? Was she shown pursuing Wanda, even in vain, or mourning her fallen comrades? Others say that Maria was able to be crushed to death because Wanda likely absorbed her power, but that’s speculation and not made clear by the actual film.
Karl Mordo returns to, surprise surprise, oppose Strange and be embarrassed. While he wasn’t killed (see how Strange can fight people and not kill them, but Wanda has to kill literally everyone?), he barely used any magic, like Wong, and was utterly wasted. And finally, there was a random Black man who got to marry Christine at the beginning of the movie. Why was this representation needed? We don’t see him much, and he’s just the man who took away the love of Stange’s life. A Black man who took away his white woman… Let’s not forget Cumberwack’s real-life background. Well, I couldn’t at least. And while I also don’t care about endless swirls in fiction, this swirl was just so needless and unnecessary. It’s not even like the Venom movies where the romantic rival got to have some levity or we see how and why the main love interest likes them, here this dude is just… there.
Again, what excellent ethnic representation: we have a Latina character who is the latest example of blatant colorism, underpowered, used as a damsel instead of the badass she should have been in another project (it’s giving Rogue in the first X-Men movie, down to not being able to fly), less queer and responsible for probably killing her own parents. Wong and the mostly ethnic magic users are useless, with the others being total red shirts. Almost forgot about that Black woman who died destroying their universe’s Darkhold, only for it to mean absolutely nothing. A random Black man is just the one who took away Strange’s love interest, and a fan of his just to rub it in. Mordo is once again no match for Strange and is quickly discarded from the plot. Maria shows the most promise against Wanda until she dies in the stupidest way that doesn’t even make sense for her power. Had she gotten a cooler and more plausible death, that might have been better, but she and the Illuminati didn’t need to be here. How embarrassing, they turned them into punk bitches.
This movie is not as good as some people are claiming. Many refuse to look beyond the surface of some cool magic and pretty effects, but it’s giving great gowns, beautiful gowns, and little else. The film’s attempt at humor was typical. Strange trying to insert snarky jokes in the face of serious moments was usual MCU fare. The movie was tier-one MCU basicness. Seeing Wanda be so powerful was cool and all, but not at the cost of her humanity and entire character development. She was turned into a cartoon villain, just a well-acted and scary one. And if you saw this movie for her as I had, did you like where all that power and badassery led? Did it satisfy you? Can you imagine a way in which she can come back and get her own movie? It was nice finally having Rachel McAdams actually have an arc and screen time, but it wasn’t nearly enough to offset the sheer amount of headscratchers and pure rage this movie instilled within me. Seeing countless ethnic people be useless or less effective than they should have been, Strange and his face, women being treated badly aside from maybe alternate Christine, and overall missed opportunities.
I know that I probably won’t change people’s minds if they truly enjoyed this movie, but please understand why no one is changing my mind or the minds of others who also took issue with it. I hope that this at the very least sheds some light on factors not previously fully considered when we discuss the movie. We don’t have to agree, but maybe some of you can understand why we didn’t appreciate this project.