I wanted to like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and at times I did. The movie did exactly what it had to do with Stephen Strange’s arc, something that is actually very good in superhero movies. Character arcs are not supposed to be surprising over fulfilling. In any other movie, the fact that they got the main character’s arc right would be enough to make the movie a win. In this one, however, everything they got right with Stephen Strange only served to underscore how little they cared about doing the same with Wanda’s arc.
Wanda Maximoff, Avenger, troubled hero, the Scarlett Witch, someone we had learned to care for, nay, to root for, is the villain of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. That, in and of itself, however, isn’t the problem. The problem is her reasons for being the villain, the journey she’s going through during this movie is …exactly the same she already went through during WandaVision, except with the Darkhold thrown in. There isn’t anything new for the viewers — or Wanda — to learn here. Only the same lesson, one that ends in a sacrifice.
Even that we could have given a pass to, had Wanda’s previous appearances in the MCU set up this turn, but of course, they didn’t. This was just the movie she got saddled with when she should have gotten her own, much like we ended up with Captain America: Civil War after DC did Batman Vs. Superman, because heroes fighting was all the rage! Spectacle and fan service over characterization has always been the MCU’s biggest Achilles heel.
And the fan service was fun, it was. I gasped at Mr. Fantastic, particularly considering who was playing him, cheered at Captain Carter and Captain Marvel, and was about as excited as anyone to see Patrick Stewart back as Charles Xavier. But even that part fell flat considering how easily the plot disposed of those characters. Like, we know Wanda is powerful. The argument that she’s the most powerful Avenger can certainly be made. But it shouldn’t have been this easy, it really shouldn’t.
That’s where the movie struggles the most: internal coherency. Wong gives Wanda the information about Wundagore Mountain in 0.2 seconds because he’s trying to save his people, but an hour later is asking Strange to take America’s power — knowing full well that will kill her — because it’s the only way. If only Wong had felt individuals weren’t as important as the multiverse a few scenes earlier, the entire movie would not have happened.
Then there’s America Chavez herself, a famous Puerto Rican superhero who is now Mexican, because …eh, Latinos are interchangeable? I understand they cast an Indigenous-Mexican actress, and therefore might have felt this was the easiest solution, but bear with me …what if they’d cast an Afrolatina in the first place and just kept America who she is? This is no knock on Xochitl Gomez, who does a good enough job as America to soften Stephen Strange at times, there’s just an uncomfortable feeling in my gut at the changes, and more importantly, at the fact that Marvel will surely not understand what my issue is.
Of course, as previously mentioned, the biggest problem with this movie is Wanda’s arc doesn’t make much sense. Yes, it’s the Darkhold’s fault, but what was the reason Wanda once again got so caught up in grief she didn’t care who she hurt? Probably the same reason Sharon Carter suddenly became a villain, Natasha Romanoff could only get her own solo movie after the character was already dead, and Captain Marvel’s movie was about owning your own strength, separate from those pesky feelings — in the MCU, emotions make men strong, women weak. Same goes for fatherhood vs. motherhood.
It’s been one of those problems we all recognize, and whisper about, but kind of brush aside when we get girl power moments, because we’re so starved for content. But no shot of all Marvel women standing together, or badass superhero costume can cover up the fact Marvel doesn’t know how to write realistic, nuanced female characters, and worst of all, doesn’t care to learn.
Fans of Stephen Strange will find something to like in this movie. Fans of America Chavez might too if they can get over the unnecessary and unexplained changes to her backstory. Fans of Wanda Maximoff, however, will only leave this movie angry, at the story and at the wasted potential of a character that deserved so much more than what she got.
If Stephen Strange and the Sam Raimi vibes — which, I will say, as someone who gets scared very easily, this is horror vibes, not full horror — are enough for you, then congratulations. You might actually enjoy this movie in a way most of us just couldn’t. And as a fan of these characters, that’s a sad, sad thing.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in theaters now.