The MCU continues to smear its women
“You break the rules and become a hero,” Wanda Maximoff told Stephen Strange in a very memorable moment at the start of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. “I do, I become the enemy… It doesn’t seem right.”
This self-serving quote from the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe film doesn’t quite hold up if you think about it for more than two seconds. It is a false equivalence between two characters who are by nature on an unequal footing. Wanda selfishly enslaved an entire city out of grief, while Stephen Strange sacrificed half the universe in a gamble to save it. In the context of the film, his logic doesn’t make sense. But her grievance points to a real trend in how female characters are treated in the MCU. As a micro observation it doesn’t work, but at the macro level the connotations point to a problem. While Doctor Strange breaks a lot of new rules in Multiverse of Madness and still rises as a hero, Wanda becomes a simplistic one-note villain – and becomes the latest MCU woman to fall.
[Ed. note: Spoilers ahead for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and MCU movies in general.]
It appears early in Multiverse of Madness that Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) is the main villain of the story. In search of a universe where the children she imagined in Wanda Vision do exist, she is determined to capture multiverse teenage America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and steal her powers. As the Evil Scarlet Witch, Wanda has some seriously terrifying scenes and more specific motivations than some past MCU villains. The fact that she turns into a villain isn’t necessarily the problem. But her complete plunge into evil speaks to an unfortunate trend in how the MCU treats female characters: they’re rarely allowed to be the same kind of heroism as their male counterparts.
That’s slowly changing as new heroes are added to the ever-expanding MCU roster. But Wanda is the last of Marvel’s Phase 1 and 2 heroines, all of whom met similar tragic and ignominious ends. This doesn’t make a good balance sheet for the future, especially considering the resistance of the male heroes of the same era.
I think I’ve seen this movie before
MCU’s next lineup has more female heroes than ever before, with Hawk Eyeit’s Kate Bishop, Captain Marvel 2is Carol Danvers, and Ms. MarvelKamala Khan is ready to save the world. But the MCU hasn’t always been so inclusive. For two entire phases of the MCU, there were only three women who were suited superheroes, not civilian love interests or other supporting characters: Natasha Romanoff, Gamora, and Wanda Maximoff.
All three have a troubled past. All three join bands made up mostly of men. (Natasha was already part of the group by the time Wanda arrived, but she’s still the only female among five males.) And while all three have had the chance to become heroes and become equally important to their respective teams than their male counterparts, all three are now dead. (At least the Gamora who went through his character growth died in Avengers: Infinity War. His old villainous self, still loyal to Thanos, who travels back in time, is still running around. Likewise, it’s possible that Wanda only appears to be dead, or she’s been brought back by multiverse magic.)
Yes, Tony Stark also died in the line of duty, but the MCU has a whole legion of white men ready to step in when one falls in battle. Even setting aside the sheer census difference, the respective way in-universe deaths are handled is also shocking. When Tony Stark dies, he gets the sacrifice of a well-witnessed hero who saves the world. He gets a big funeral filled with deep Marvel cameos, and the whole MCU is feeling the effects of his death. Peter Parker spends his next film unpacking Tony’s legacy, reminding him at every turn.
When Natasha Romanoff dies, only Clint and Wanda comment on her during Avengers: Endgame. She is largely forgotten by everyone. Disney Plus’ Hawk Eye eventually gave Clint more space to process that grief, but the only person who shares his feelings is Natasha’s long-lost sister, Yelena – a character introduced only after Natasha’s death, in her late solo film. Admittedly, it’s not like many other fallen heroes had a huge funeral attended by all on-screen characters, as the MCU seems more focused on crafting the next thing than actually doing it. to give the characters space for emotional catharsis. But still – only a handful of people mourning one of the original Avengers?
We still don’t know the bigger ramifications of Wanda and Gamora’s deaths – or if they’re even really deaths. (Although Scarlett Johansson’s messy breakup with Marvel makes it less likely that she’ll be resurrected in some way.) But regardless, they never had a chance to become the same. type of hero than their male counterparts. There’s no hero’s journey for them, just a tragic ending, often as footnotes to someone else’s story.
The WandaVision of everything
It’s especially frustrating in Wanda’s case, considering how much screen time and attention she’s received compared to other female characters in the MCU. Before Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madnessfirst Disney Plus original series, Wanda Vision, centered on Wanda, who has taken over a city and thrown it into a sitcom fantasy of escape. The show ended without Wanda suffering any repercussions for her actions, which some viewers found frustrating.
But in retrospect, the reason Wanda didn’t deal with the aftermath or make amends in Wanda Vision is because the series was ostensibly a villain origin story – though that wasn’t clear at the time, as the ever-moving MCU machine relies on never fully showing its next move. Even though Wanda didn’t let go of her grief during the show, she at least felt like she had learned not to let it consume her and the innocent victims around her. What was that line about enduring love, if not the hope that Wanda could recognize that her grief is just love with nowhere to go?
Because Wanda was the center of the show and because she focuses so clearly on her pain, she became a likable character – and also the female MCU character with the most dedicated central screen time. She has become a fan favorite. Part of that is because audiences got to know her in a way they never knew Gamora or Natasha, in a way they never knew Carol Danvers or Thorit’s Jane Foster. But part of that is also his feelings of alienation and grief, which appealed to fans who saw themselves in his struggles. By the time Wanda Vision ended, Wanda had become one of the few female characters in the MCU with her own story.
How she became a villain isn’t the point. (Although the fact that she seemingly forgets her lost love, Vision, and focuses solely on finding her children speaks to a stereotype that female characters only become meaningful and heroic when they act as mothers. .) The frustrating part is the fact that she became the only one of the MCU’s three original female heroes to have a shot at becoming a worthy hero with a full character arc – and instead turned into a villain at thwart. All the lessons fans thought they saw her learn at the end of Wanda Vision turned out to be red herrings.
“That doesn’t seem fair,” Wanda tells Doctor Strange, and she’s right. It’s not fair for Wanda, Natasha, and Gamora to die (or “die”) so the men around them can get up and carry on. It’s not fair that the only one of them has her own story – the story of a lonely woman trying to figure out the powers she never asked for and dealing with the grief of losing everything she always loved without having anyone to lean on – becomes a villain so Doctor Strange can have a reason to jump into the Multiverse.
Future plans for the MCU tentatively promised to rectify that. Kate Bishop will likely take on the role of Hawkeye, while Jane Foster becomes the new Thor in Thor: Love and Thunder. Yelena could still be a hero, and Black Panther‘s Shuri will supposedly be spotlighted in the sequel. Carol Danvers will be joined by Monica Rambeau and Kamala Khan. Likewise, Ant-Man and the Waspit’s Hope van Dyne, Thor: Ragnarokit’s Valkyrie, Black Panthit’s Okoye and Nakia, guardians of the galaxy‘s Mantis and Nebula, and Eternals‘ Thena, Sersi and Makkari could eventually get a chance to become dynamic heroes. It just sucks that the original heroines had to fall for this to happen.