In honor of the Scarlet Witch, the MCU’s best character


In more ways than one, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness marks the ending of Wanda Maximoff’s MCU journey. First introduced in 2015’s otherwise forgettable Avengers: Age of Ultron, Wanda is unique among MCU characters: flawed, inexperienced, highly traumatized, and holding far more power than anyone should. Throughout seven years, five movies, and one television miniseries, Wanda grew and evolved; she fell in love against all odds and grew into her own hero, only to lose the love of her life and the reputation she worked so hard to earn; she built a family, then saw it fade away as quickly as it arrived.

Wanda suffered more trauma, heartbreak, pain, loss, and damage than any other character in the otherwise cheery and safe MCU. Why the writers put her through hell and back remains unclear — tragedy seems so ingrained in Wanda Maximoff’s character that there might seem like there’s no other way to develop her — but she was strong enough to take it. And then, she wasn’t. The MCU gave Wanda things they’d eventually take away, then raised its voice at her for complaining. And Wanda took it like a champ, but as one Jasmine Francis once said, “there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming.”

And boy, did Wanda scream and rampage. After seeing her contained for so long, the MCU started to truly unleash her power in the most recent years, starting with her memorable roles in Infinity War and Endgame and culminating with her volcanic turn in Multiverse of Madness. After all, with so much power and pain, can anyone blame her for letting loose? Does anyone in the MCU even care about her pain? “You break the rules and become the hero,” she tells Strange during one of their confrontations in Multiverse of Madness. “I do it, I become the enemy.” And no, it doesn’t seem fair.

A complicated journey

Wanda looking pensive in Captain America: Civil War.

For years, the MCU seemed unsure of what to do with Wanda. How to treat her when the source material itself went back and forth with her characterization? The Wanda from the comics is volatile and full of surprises, not necessarily of the good kind. Her vast and, let’s say, flexible powers also make her something of a deus ex-machina, a way for writers to retcon any given situation without putting too much thought into it. Wanda’s erratic behavior is never fully explained either; sometimes it’s the Darkhold, sometimes chaos magic, other times grief, and often just her inherent mental instability.

It’s no surprise that most of Wanda’s most memorable moments from the comics have a negative connotation. Whether it’s stealing Doctor Doom’s powers, investing the moralities of heroes and villains, or killing Scott Lang, Wanda’s presence often means trouble ahead. Her most defining moment, by far, is the creation of a new reality by uttering the now-iconic words, “No more mutants.” Wanda can shape worlds at will; she is a god for all terms and purposes. And just like the gods, she’s selfish, self-serving, empathetic and sympathetic but never innocent or tame.

When Wanda arrived at the MCU, she was seemingly a villain. Working with Ultron and attempting to destroy the Avengers from within, Wanda played her mind games on the group only to realize how wrong she had been and do a full 180 on the third act; honestly, that’s just what the Wanda from the comics would do. Quicksilver’s death also served to set up her eventual path to villainy. It was the MCU’s way of saying, “We know you want her unhinged, so here’s the way to do it.”

Future Wanda appearances kept this trend going. She blows up a building in Civil War, killing several civilians and effectively causing the Sokovia Accords; two years later, she kills her lover, Vision, only to see him come back to life and get murdered again before she turns into dust. By the time Endgame arrives, it’s honestly surprising that she’s still a functioning human being. Except, of course, she isn’t. According to the MCU, she’s never been.

Enter the Scarlet Witch

The Scarlet Witch looking down at someone in WandaVision.

WandaVision is wonderfully weird, a colorful, playful, and highly experimental entry on the MCU. By finally showcasing Wanda and Vision, after years of treating them like second-fiddle, the show elevated them into the upper-tier of MCU characters by allowing them something few others in the sprawling cinematic universe have: depth. WandaVision took Wanda past the “unhinged woman” trope and made Vision more than a “socially awkward robot.” In short, it gave Wanda a heart and Vision a soul.

Arguably the best of the Disney+ shows, WandaVision served two purposes. On the surface, it advanced Wanda and Vision’s roles as cogs in the MCU machine by confirming her as the Scarlet Witch and bringing him back to life. More importantly, it offered a deep and layered look into Wanda, finally explaining who she was, where she came from, and what she wanted. WandaVision didn’t quite stick the landing but remains unmatched by other MCU shows as an intricate and highly affecting character study. The show ended Wanda’s story of grief and denial on a hopeful and promising note. With her journey at a turning point, fans knew it was time for the MCU to decide who its version of Wanda would be. Hero, villain, or something in the middle?

Alas, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness offers no clear answer. Wanda is the story’s primary antagonist, away from whatever sense of control she once had and giving in to her darkest desires. Under Sam Raimi’s directorial lens and Michael Waldron’s unforgiving pen, Wanda is all will and all power, ruthless and undeterred in the pursuit of her goals. The jump from her place of resignation at the end of WandaVision to her state of absolute desire in Multiverse of Madness is jarring and rushed — countless WandaVision fans will surely argue character assassination — but a never-better Elizabeth Olsen more than makes up for the blatant gaps in Waldron’s script.

However, the film ultimately does a disservice to Wanda. By having her act like a full-blown villain only to cop out with a cheap act of redemption, Multiverse of Madness tries to have its cake and eat it too. Fans are used to this — after all, it’s what the comics have done for decades — but it doesn’t make it any less unfair. A second season to WandaVision might’ve allowed for a smoother transition, or, if the idea is to keep her amoral but not entirely villainous, then Waldron should’ve gone for restraint when writing Multiverse of Madness,

Still, it’s hard to argue with this ever-changing attitude when Wanda’s reputation is so fixated on people’s minds. To them, Wanda is the ultimate antihero, a character whose morality goes from questionable to non-existent, often on the same page; at times, in the same comic book panel. The fascination with Wanda comes from an inherently problematic quality about her character, a duality of purpose and allegiance that makes her one of Marvel’s biggest question marks. But what works on the page doesn’t necessarily translate well to the screen, and while the comic books get a free pass because of their natural chaos, the MCU prides itself in interconnectivity and the single plot its shared universe follows; under these circumstances, the Scarlet Witch’s journey from tragic hero to tragic villain feels unsatisfying at best and insulting at worst.

Where does that leave Wanda? The MCU is famous for its rejection of villainy, especially if a character is popular with the fans. Was Multiverse of Madness just a way to satisfy the itch for an evil Wanda? If it was, it was one heck of a scratch. More intriguingly, was it perhaps just a taste of what Wanda’s powers can achieve, a warning of sorts to this and every universe?

The end of the road?

Scarlet Witch on the poster for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

The truth is, Wanda Maximoff, especially after the events of Multiverse of Madness, is too complicated to define. People will argue about Wanda’s actions and whether or not fans can forgive her. Yet Marvel never had an issue looking the other way when some of its most famous characters crossed ethical lines. From Professor X to Reed Richards, Jean Grey, Punisher, and everything in between, Marvel is an expert on putting a positive spin on a particularly blood-soaked past. The MCU itself happily ignored Loki’s –and it must be said, Thor’s — multiple war crimes; all it took was a dashing smile from Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth. Well, Elizabeth Olsen can smile, too.

On the other hand, dare fans dream about a truly villainous Scarlet Witch? It’s not like audiences don’t want an evil Wanda; on the contrary, many would rejoice at the idea of such an overpowered enemy threatening the new class of MCU heroes. So why is Kang the new Thanos and not Wanda? The truth is, antiheroism doesn’t exist in the MCU — many perish the thought of a PG-13 Punisher or Deadpool. The likely answer is that Wanda, who so comfortably exists between morality lines, will fall back to the hero side of the MCU. Multiverse of Madness was a way to show her destructive side without ever having to bring it back, a one-and-done situation. With the Darkhold gone and Wanda on good terms with her kids’ multiversal fate, she’ll be on the path of redemption and away from the chaos that powers her abilities the next time audiences see her.

But that’s where the MCU is wrong. Multiverse of Madness gave us not the Wanda we deserved but the one we needed. In more ways than one, this explosion of power and pain is what Wanda’s journey has always led to, and there’s a certain catharsis in finally seeing her unbound. Wanda isn’t a merciless villain, but she’s not a selfless hero either. She occupies a sweet spot, away from the moral absolutism that rules the MCU. She is so compelling because she isn’t one-dimensional or unilateral. Like most people, Wanda is ever-changing, never-stopping, and all-consuming. Wanda Maximoff is chaos personified. So, let her reign.

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