This post contains multiple spoilers for “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”
I’m a big fan of Marvel. I have watched all the movies, shows, and end credit scenes. I love the thrill of watching one of them for the first time. They bring a certain assurance with them. I know they’ll be exciting, maybe even a little sad, but the end will be happy. The good guys will ultimately win the day. You’ll leave the theater feeling capable and light because good always triumphs in the end.
But that’s not really the case with Doctor Strange 2. The movie, while peppered with the usual sarcastic flair that makes Marvel movies fun to watch, is unlike any other in the line-up. The line between good and evil is blurred, and you are given no clear, happy resolution. I was uncomfortable watching it, and it took me a little while to figure out why.
Perhaps you’ve seen the spectrum of responses to the movie. Some people love it, others hate it, but all agree it is a dark first leap for Marvel into the horror genre. I had heard quite a bit about the witchcraft involved, the zombie appearances, the gore, etc. I knew it was going to be different. But these aren’t the things that made me squirm in my theater seat. The problem was with Wanda.
Wanda Maximoff is one of my favorite Marvel superheroes—her powers are born from loss and pain, both of which seem to torment her relentlessly. Wanda’s primary role in the Infinity War/End Game movies is to lose the love of her life. Then again, the cold grip of loss and pain steers the story in the Disney+ series WandaVision. But throughout the stories, she is the good guy, the hero who ultimately tries to right the wrongs and resist the evil forces seeking to dominate our world. She makes bad choices, but they are born from grief, and therefore feel excusable. But in Doctor Strange 2, Wanda rides the black horse. She is the aggressor, the one who chases. She hunts her prey, unintimidated and unstoppable. Out of all the Marvel villains, she terrorizes her way to the top as the most brutal, the most powerful. She embodies unfettered inescapable evil. The stuff reserved for nightmares.
Marvel has not hesitated to show the flaws in its heroes. That’s a huge part of the joy of watching them. We get to see the cracks in their armor, and yet they (almost) always prevail. Sinking into the Marvel universe is actually quite a lovely escape from reality. There, good will triumph. Good will be on this side, and evil will be on that side. Flawed does not equal evil in the other Marvel movies. Flawed equals more relatable, it tells us we are allowed to be flawed and yet still be the good guys too. We get to come away feeling like we are and always were on the side of Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. We root for the good guys because we are the good guys. Marvel becomes our rose-colored mirror, our filtered “good guy” selfie.
But in this movie, Wanda the good guy becomes the Scarlet Witch, interrupting the balance. There is no point at which you can watch her doggedly and unapologetically limping after the heroes and not be terrified. There is no redemption waiting for her at the end, no caveat that will make her wicked pursuit forgivable. Death must bring her painful story to an end. There is no room for us to relate to her and still come away from the movie feeling good about ourselves. Wanda strips the rose tint off of our mirror and replaces it with blood. A character many of us relate so strongly to has just pulled the rug out from under us. And the discomfort in the movie theater didn’t come from feeling like I could no longer relate to her. The discomfort came from the realization that this tirade she was on was, in fact, uncomfortably relatable. This nose-dive to the belly of evil is something I understand, but seek to avoid about myself. We much prefer being able to relate to a flaw and then have it quickly outnumbered and forgotten by all the good things that we do as our own types of superheroes. I can ignore the impatience I have with my children because I packed stellar lunches for them. I can turn my eyes from the selfishness I show in my marriage because of the other ways in which I serve my husband. One outweighs the other, right? This unending onslaught of my darker reality was not what I signed up for in going to a Marvel film.
As I sat watching this movie, it was as if I was seeing a picture of myself for who I truly am: a blood-soaked, unredeemable sinner, who unflinchingly hurts others in order to achieve her own goals. My fingers black, my eyes red, my gaze wild. There’s no saving me. I’m too far gone.
Where this fictional story ends, with the Scarlet Witch bringing her temple down on top of herself, mine does not.
My Scarlet-Witch-self deserves it, but unlike Doctor Strange who could not save her, my own savior stepped into the chasm with me. In his own Samson-like way, Jesus took my place under that crumbling temple while my redeemed, unstained, undeserving self walked away alive and forgiven.
It’s not often that the world gives us such a clear picture of our own hearts, where a seemingly “good guy” peels back the layer and shows the rot underneath with no chance for a cure. I am thankful for the discomfort that I felt in the theater because while I ate the popcorn, I got to see just how amazing it is that Jesus looked at these Wanda-esque, unredeemable qualities in me and still came running down the mountain for me.
While this was not the normal Marvel experience I anticipated, I found this discomfort was, in the end, perhaps even more of a balm for my weary soul than the rose-colored “everyone is a hero” mantra we normally seek after. It allowed me to unclench my fists a bit (except, you know, during the jump-scares) and relax into this unbelievable grace that is so freely offered at the foot of the cross.