The Infuriating Inconsistency of Wanda Maximoff
Wanda Maximoff shines bright in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, driving the plot forward as the film’s deadly villain. Elizabeth Olsen tapped into a mother’s duty to portray the grieving, powerful character we all know and love. But while WandaVision portrayed the Scarlet Witch as an emotionally complex character and gave her a perfect arc, Multiverse of Madness throws her character development in the trash in an unnecessary effort to vilify her.
WARNING: SPOILERS for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness follow.
While most of Multiverse of Madness was well-paced considering fan concern over the movie’s runtime, the beginning of the film was rushed. Haphazardly recapping WandaVision through Wanda’s dreams of Billy and Tommy Maximoff was an awkward choice, although the sadness and loss did come across in the finished product. However, it’s the scene in the apple orchard that really drags down the beginning of the film.
We know parts of Multiverse of Madness were rewritten as a result of WandaVision’s Benedict Cumberbatch cameo being cut. As a result, the first meeting between Stephen Strange and Wanda Maximoff seems almost like a chore that writer Michael Waldron needed to get out of the way. Strange doesn’t care whatsoever about what happened in Westview, nor does he seem to be concerned about Wanda’s battle with an ancient witch. Wanda quickly reveals that she’s the one after Xochitl Gomez’s America Chavez, but it even feels like her villain monologue is rushed so the movie can move along faster.
Because this villainous turn is rushed, little explanation is provided as to why Wanda is killing people to get her children after accepting their deaths at the end of WandaVision. Her actions in Multiverse of Madness are a 180 degree turn from her final moments in Westview, since Wanda already learned that she cannot control everything and accepted her loss and grief. Yes, she’s been reading the Darkhold, which has clearly affected her actions. Despite this, the effects of the Darkhold’s corruption are never examined nor are they clearly defined.
The Book of the Damned
Wanda makes some excellent points throughout the film about Strange and Wong’s hypocrisy (which I have examined in a separate article here). While her reasoning is understandable, it certainly does not excuse her actions, but neither does anything else. Turning Wanda into a villain isn’t a bad idea by any means, but it needs to hinge on something. Strange says the Darkhold corrupts anything it touches while Wong reveals it was created by Chthon, the first demon, but that’s where the exploration of anything mystical ends. Aside from one other line from Wong about the Scarlet Witch ruling or destroying the cosmos, the prophecy introduced in WandaVision has no bearing on the plot.
We go to Mount Wundagore to discover who Wanda Maximoff truly is, and instead we find only a statue of herself as the Scarlet Witch and a throne upon which demons bow to her. This myth is not explored, the author of the Darkhold is mentioned only once in an offhand manner, and by the end of the movie, we still know nothing about the Scarlet Witch and why she’s destined to destroy the world. The concept of the Scarlet Witch as a mythical being seems to serve as only an explanation for Wanda’s immense power and nothing more.
This is where the movie falls apart for me. While it’s established that Wanda is a mythical being, that concept is barely explored. We don’t know why she’s destined to rule or destroy the universe, so why do we care when she chooses not to? The effects of the Darkhold are seen with Sinister Strange, but are never defined or dug into. Is the Darkhold messing with Wanda’s ability to see reason? Is she fully aware of what she’s doing? If she’s truly been corrupted by a book of dark magic, why is she able to destroy it in every universe after crying for two minutes? Nothing in Multiverse of Madness makes us care about Wanda's destiny or mythical status despite the long buildup.
The Wanda Problem
The issue is that no one knew what to do with Wanda Maximoff yet again. It breaks my heart every time, but this is nothing new for the MCU. Wanda Maximoff has always been a wasted character sitting on the sidelines because writers don’t know how to handle her. WandaVision changed that by powering her through an epic arc of love and grief, only for Multiverse of Madness to undo her most powerful moment of character development and then rehash it in a twisted way that made her an unforgivable murderer.
Wanda accepted the loss of Vision and her children, so why is she suddenly willing to kill hundreds of people only to steal her children from another version of herself? Multiverse of Madness never answers this question and her actions are made even worse by the fact that she destroys several other families. If she’s doing all of this for her children and with little influence from the Darkhold, then why doesn’t she care about the families she’s hurting? Does she not see herself in John Krasinski’s Reed Richards or Lashana Lynch’s Maria Rambeau?
Maria was the perfect opportunity to make Wanda confront her actions and see reason for the first time. Wanda and Monica Rambeau acknowledged each other’s loss in WandaVision, yet when Wanda reaches Earth-838, she callously kills Monica’s mother without a second thought. This moment was the perfect place for Wanda to see the effects of her actions, to confront the fact that she has caused the same amount of pain for Earth-838’s Monica that she experienced herself as a child in Sokovia. Wanda could have killed Maria anyway but felt a moment of guilt as she remembered Monica’s grief and how it drove her to help Wanda. Before she kills Reed Richards, she asks him if his wife is alive and delivers her best line in the film: “Good, there’ll be someone left to raise them”. While that line goes absolutely BONKERS hard, it’s a very weird sentiment coming from someone who lost their husband and children and, to beat a dead horse, already accepted their deaths over a year ago.
Why is Wanda Going in Circles?
Wanda’s arc in this movie doesn’t take her to a new place. While making her a villain could work and the middle of the movie takes her to incredible places, the beginning and end show how poorly executed the concept is. No actual reason for her shift from WandaVision to Multiverse of Madness is ever given. If the Darkhold has truly corrupted her to the core, it doesn’t come across in the movie. Aside from some black fingertips and a line from Strange, Wanda seems to know exactly what she’s doing. The Darkhold comes across as a tool for her to use, not a malicious force twisting her worldview and ability to see reason.
Wanda ends her arc in this film by accepting that she cannot control everything after Billy and Tommy flee from her in fear. She destroys Mount Wundagore and every copy of the Darkhold across the multiverse, seemingly dying in the ensuing destruction. But we walk away never understanding why she was willing to kill countless innocent people to see her children again. It’s understandable that she misses them and is tired of loss and grief, but that was the entire point of WandaVision. She learned how to live with that grief and survive despite her losses. Multiverse of Madness needlessly regresses her character to make her hell-bent on destroying her alternate self’s life and kidnapping children who want nothing to do with her.
Wanda becoming a villain is a good idea. Wanda doing unspeakable things as a mythical being of incomprehensible power to find happiness is also a good idea. Implementing these concepts by undoing her character development and rushing through her emotional arc is a horrible idea that never should have been put to film. Wanda should have been fully and clearly corrupted by the Darkhold or Chthon, unable to see reason because of the evil clouding her mind. While this would take away some of her agency, it would be much better than Wanda coming to her senses because Earth-838 Billy and Tommy are obviously scared of her. Even that moment would have worked better if Wanda showed a twinge of guilt for Maria or Reed, or for the torture she inflicted upon America Chavez. Wanda keeps insisting she’s a mother and she has to protect her children, yet she doesn’t care at all about the broken families and corpses she leaves in her wake.
I’m always rooting for Wanda, but I can’t forgive the absurdities of her arc in Multiverse of Madness even though I liked her as the villain. If Wanda is meant to be a goddess destined to destroy the world in the MCU, then do something with that idea. Don’t gloss over it and ignore the intricacies of witchcraft and demons in favor of butchering a good character arc, something Wanda didn’t get for years. There was a way to make Wanda the enemy without making her utterly delusional. Hopefully the next writer to get ahold of the Scarlet Witch understands that and takes the time to push her development forward instead of needlessly redoing it.