A Beautiful Looking and Sounding Mess
*Minor Spoilers for Avenger’s Infinity War, WandaVision, and Avenger’s Civil War
By ABQ Live writer Nichole Harwood
Marvel’s latest edition to the roster, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, is one of the most visually stunning movies that Marvel has ever produced. This, combined with the artfully crafted soundtrack by the ever so brilliant Danny Elfman alone, makes this film stand out. And this is where the positive aspects and praise of the movie end.
In hindsight, the greatest failure of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is one that should have been easily predicted. Director Sam Raimi is well known for his unique take on movies directing popular films like the original Spider-Man trilogy in addition to grittier cult-favorite horror flicks such as Evil Dead. Raimi knows how to tell a great story, but in every one of his films, one glaring weakness always rears its ugly head. It’s a weakness that amid a male lead can be easily overlooked; his inability to have good female leads or even well done female side characters. This isn’t so noticeable in Evil Dead. Here? It’s hard to see past it.
This isn’t the first time Raimi has breached the superhero genre, and the original Spider-Man trilogy is one that many cherish, myself included. Despite this, Mary Jane from the original Spider-Man trilogy has become the face of multiple memes for fulfilling her role as the damsel in distress while screaming in every single film she is in. Likewise, Raimi’s portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West in Oz the Great and Powerful is so infamous that even Disney changed the character entirely in its serialized television series Once Upon a Time doing everything in its corporate power to bury the disgrace of the portrayal (my heart goes out to Mila Kunis, a genuinely brilliant actress who was the victim of terrible direction in that film).
With such a track record under his belt, it should have been expected that he would be the first director to reduce one of Marvel’s most powerful heroes into a muddling mess of cliches glued together by weak motivations and tired tropes. Alas, that is what happened to Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, in her portrayal within “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Unfortunately, the poor treatment of her character pretty much starts from the beginning.
The movie begins with its other poorly written female lead America Chavez as she is running from a monster with Doctor Strange of another universe by her side.
Chavez spends most of her time in these opening scenes (along with the rest of the film), screaming in terror as she runs. This portrayal of America Chavez is so unlike her comic counterpart; it’s stunning they even bothered to keep the same name.
In comics, America Chavez is a heavy hitter, which could easily be described as the cannon of her team in her run in Young Avengers. She has a sheen of arrogance that can easily be attributed to her strength, and her arc in comics is often having to overcome this overconfidence by relying on others. Here? She’s a screaming mess of a teen whose few and far-between quips seem at odds with the sheer terror that appears on her face 24/7. Despite admitting to being to 73 worlds in the film, America Chavez insists that she can’t control her powers any more than when they first appeared and, instead of bothering to try to control them, seems to prefer running from hero to hero, or rather Doctor Strange to Doctor Strange looking for someone she can hide behind. The film America Chavez isn’t just an unrealistic version of the comic counterpart; she is an unrealistic version of a teenage girl in general. In addition, hopefully, LBGTQ fans that were excited to see an accurate interpretation of the out and proud hero from comics weren’t holding their breath because her sexuality isn’t addressed once in the film. Considering the online bullying Chavez’s actress Xochitl Gomez had to deal with online because of how much Disney touted portraying their first LBGTQ hero, it seems odd that we don’t even get a single line from the character. To be fair, outside of screaming and minor quips no teen in real life would say, she gets few lines.
America and Strange running from universe to universe make up approximately the majority of the film, with cameos from old movies sprinkled in with callbacks to Raimi’s other franchises, specifically Evil Dead. These cameos are enjoyable, and while I won’t spoil any of them, quite a few make the film worth watching at least once. Unfortunately, a film should be judged on more than just cameos. Doctor Strange’s arc is easily as weak as his female co-stars ( albeit maybe slightly less infuriating), the weakness of his arc combined with Wanda’s drags the film down. Perhaps the most significant problem with Strange’s arc is how little it ties into the story. If America Chavez had been as arrogant as her comic counterpart, we would have probably seen some great chemistry between the two. Strange seeing his younger self in the girl. Instead, Strange’s arc seems to revolve around his choice to be a superhero and not be with his old love interest Christine which ties into things so little that he spends the resolution of this arc with an alternate that isn’t even his Christine.
The inclusion of Strange’s old love interest Christine being pulled back into the movie is off enough as we are only given minimal screen time with her when Strange goes to her wedding at the beginning of the film. A wedding that takes place six years after the end of their relationship (hey ladies, when was the last time you invited your ex to your wedding). Her role is minimal, but basically, she and an alternate version of her act as a supporting love interest in every universe she’s in, even though they aren’t together in any of them.
Now we come to my personal grief with the movie, the treatment of Wanda’s character. I should state here that if you were not a fan of this character, this movie will undoubtedly rank higher for you. If you are? Then it will rank lower. Wanda has always been a character that has stood out in the MCU, and I give quite a bit of the actual credit for how much I love this character to the actor portraying her. Elizabeth Olsen is a brilliant actor. Her ability to represent Wanda’s grief in every film is so heart-wrenching that she is probably one of the few Marvel characters I am emotionally invested in. But we should talk about that grief. Wanda is a woman who lost her brother in the first film she appeared in, was forced to kill her lover Vision in Avengers: Infinity War, an act that didn’t even stop the big bad which scarred her, and finally lost her children in her own series WandaVision. Despite the overwhelming grief this character has gone through; she always drags herself back up when the need for her to become a hero comes up.
The exception to this may be WandaVision, a show where she spends most of it in denial of her action’s impact on others. Despite that, she still makes a decision that saves others (even if it’s from herself) and where she loses everything.
With the premiere of this film, Marvel has decided to ensure she stays fixated in her role as the MCU’s punching bag, apparently forever. Does it count as festive to torture a mother who lost her children the entire film since it came to theaters during the week of Mother’s Day, or was that just poor timing? Whichever the case, Wanda is portrayed as a grieving mother who is also treated as crazy by her fellow Avenger Doctor Strange, who denies she was a mother while also, in the same breath saying she sacrificed a lot to save the town she accidentally bewitched in WandaVision. Two trains of thoughts at odds with each other. I won’t spoil her role in the film, but personally, I thought it was a poor choice as a viewer and as a mother. I will state that the action with her, like the rest of the film, is visually stunning but I would have rather seen poor, less creative effects and a strong character if that were the trade-off.
I won’t spoil the conclusion of the film. If you love Doctor Strange and don’t care about Wanda Maximoff, you’ll probably score this film a B for the visual effects and music alone. As a fan of Wanda and a mother, I have little choice but to score the movie lower. Word of advice? Maybe don’t take Mom to see this one on Mother’s Day.
Photo Credit: IMDb, America Vol. 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez, Insider, Collider
Do you love movie reviews? Check out our latest review of the Netflix series Arcane here!