Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios' DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

On The Stereotypical Image of Women in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Marvel Studios, along with President Kevin Feige, are working on bringing more female comic book characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in preparation for the Universe’s fifth phase of movies and television series. Their latest addition, attorney Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk (portrayed by Tatiana Maslany) is only one of many other female characters planned for the big screen, or the streaming service Disney+.

Additionally, there are hopes that Alaqua Cox will return as Maya Lopez/Echo in her own series next year, after her recurring appearance in Hawkeye. Echo will be the first deaf superhero raised in the streets. Echo initially appeared in the Defenders series on Netflix, before Marvel Studios regained the reproduction rights.

The trend to increase diversity in the MCU started with the 2021 movie Eternals, which was banned in many Arab countries. The Chloé Zhao-directed movie was the first to include a cast from different backgrounds, including the character Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), the first gay superhero in the MCU. 

Yet Marvel’s new diversity bid does not overshadow the many flaws of the past, which are most clearly seen with the character of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who was only recently done justice with her own movie after a decade of sexism on the big screen.

A major component of the discourse around female superheroes presented by Marvel Studios is the character of Wanda Maximoff/The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who turned into a villain after the end of her titular series WandaVision – a shift that was seen in more details in the movie Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness. 

In this film, we see Wanda in a different image from the superhero we knew as part of the Avengers. Written by Michael Waldron, writer of the Disney+ series Loki, Wanda turns to the dark side of her character, presenting us with another negative stereotype of women as was seen in older, classical writing.

Wanda Maximoff: From Comic Books to Screens

Wanda first appeared in the fourth issue of the X-Men comic book series in 1969, where readers got to see the transformations she went through and the supernatural abilities she got through genetic testing. 

This is the focus of our discussion, as the character was introduced to the MCU in the post-credit scene of the 2014 movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier. She was trapped in Baron Wolfgang von Strucker’s laboratory in fictional country Sokovia, along with her twin brother Pietro. Von Straker, in the comics, is the one of the leaders of terrorist organization Hydra.

And so began Wanda’s ordeal in the MCU, with her character undergoing many changes, including several allegiance switches (from enemy, to ally, to main villain). She and Pietro lost their parents when a missile created by Tony Stark/Iron Man’s company allegedly killed them. 

In her first big-screen debut, she allies herself with Ultron to take revenge on Stark in Avengers: Age of Ultron, before aligning herself with and joining the Avengers as the movie progressed. At the end of this film, Wanda experienced her first ordeal by losing her brother in the battle against Ultron.

After an incident in Lagos, Nigeria which lead to the death of 11 people in Captain America: Civil War, she was subject to indictment, trial, and isolation. 

In Avengers: Infinity War, she was forced to end the life of her lover, Vision, as she was the only one able to destroy the mind stone attached to his head. This was done to prevent the movie’s villain, Thanos, from taking it. 

This plot line served as a prelude for her Disney+ series WandaVision, which saw her transformation into the Scarlet Witch after obtaining the Darkhold, a dark magic book, and absorbing the powers of her rival, witch Agatha Harkness. 

Wanda Maximoff and the Alter Ego

WandaVision presents a different side of Wanda’s character as she uses her powers to build an alternative world in the town of Westview, where she and Vision settle down with their two children. 

The series failed to develop her character in a contemporary way, away from the stereotyped image we have come to know in the cinematic world. 

While Wanda differs from Marvel villains in the fact that she wants to build an alternative world that does not aim to destroy humanity or control the planet, as much as she simply wants to be with her children and Vision, she is also portrayed the prevailing stereotype that women only long for and feel best at home. As for the outside world, this one belongs to men.

Marvel Studios then chose to turn Wanda into the villain of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness after trying to obtain the powers of America Chavez, a girl who can travel across Marvel’s various universes. 

In this attempt, Wanda enters her alter-ego, the Scarlet Witch, in a battle with Stephen Strange and his wizard friends at the Kamar-Taj Academy of Witchcraft, as the latter were trying to protect America from the Witch’s wrath. Strange and Chavez eventually defeat her at the end of the film and make her destroy the Darkhold as she destroys Mount Wundagore over her body.

Stereotypes of Women in the Marvel Universe

The MCU has released 27 movies since it first started producing movies, and throughout that period of time, the mistakes of its male superheroes have been largely forgiven and forgotten. For example, Strange faced little consequence for his mistake in his spell in Spider-Man: No Way Home, which led to the multiverse crisis, while Wanda had to face the results of her actions after Westview, as well as her transformation into the Scarlet Witch.

In this context, the dialogues that took place between Maximoff and Strange can help in analyzing her alter ego’s personality. Wanda seems confident when she talks about the existence of her two children in another universe, more so than Strange when he thinks about the failure of his romantic relationship. 

Strange knows Wanda is right, but for a superhero it is necessary to lie, and he insists that Wanda created her children with her magic. When defending her desire to be with her children, Wanda justifies the rationality of her violence by saying this is what every mother would do, to which Strange replies that she has no children. Wanda then states that her children exist in every universe except the one she lives in – the 616.

In this movie, Wanda shows a lot of maternal emotions despite her anger, which is evident in her confrontation with Strange. During the Avengers’ battle with Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, Strange gives the Time Stone to Thanos in order to save Tony Stark’s life. Despite this helping Thanos obtain all the Infinity Stones, letting him wipe out half of the Earth, Strange is still seen as a hero in the public eye. When Wanda confronts him about giving the stone to the intergalactic villain, Strange says, “I did what I had to do.”

These conversations between Wanda and Strange give us a deeper dive into her character’s path. Comparing Strange’s acts to her controlling of Westview, Wanda notes, “You break the rules and become a hero. I do it and I become the enemy. That doesn’t seem fair.”

“I blew a hole through the head of the man I loved… and it meant nothing. Do not speak to me of sacrifice, Stephen Strange” she added.

Wanda fully understands what it means to be in another universe with her children, and she understands even more what it means to be deprived of the family she dreamed of building in her world, and now she wants nothing more than to be with her children in another world.

The most problematic aspect of Wanda’s alter-ego becomes clear to us with the representation of her anger in the film, which bears many resemblances with traditional stereotypical traits given to women. One of the biggest tropes surrounding women in the media industry is that women are overly-emotional beings, incapable of emotional intelligence, especially in times of anger. Time and time again, women have been presented to be “out of control” and “extremely violent” when angry or upset, and it is just this trope that Wanda’s character falls into in her latest big-screen appearance.

Wanda turned into the Scarlet Witch after obtaining the Darkhold. According to the comics, the Scarlet Witch is one of the most powerful characters in the universe, so much so that no one can stop her. This does, however, fall into the stereotype regarding women’s anger. With her rage, Wanda kills everyone around her indiscriminately. 

This can be compared to the portrayal of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) in the final season of the hit HBO show, Game of Thrones.

Similarly, Daenerys’ character was portrayed to be poised, determined, and focused, except for the final season, when it seemed as if all of these character traits were clearly forgotten.

This is not the only stereotype underlying Marvel films. Firstly, we have the depiction of mistakes committed by male heroes as passing lapses which are always overlooked at the end of the film, when the man is deemed the hero. 

Secondly, the righteousness of its male heroes who often provide instructions to female ones, and finally, the focus on the dark side of female superheroes who did not serve in the military. This plays into another layer of subtle Marvel doctrines, but for the sake of this piece, we will not mention it. We can refer here to Captain Marvel, who served in the US Army, in comparison to Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, who was a former Russian spy.

Stereotypes, predictability, and repetition

The ending of the movie is more than predictable. With Strange’s help, America Chavez is able to finally make Wanda see the dark side of her alter ego when she meets her children. 

In an unoriginal ending, Wanda is convinced that she cannot live with her children in another universe. She admits that the Darkhold seduced her, and that she must destroy Mount Wundagore, saying, “I opened the Darkhold. I have to close it. No one will ever be tempted by the Darkhold again.”

As in the comics, audiences had to face Wanda’s struggle with motherhood in any Marvel Studios project she appears in. And so, Marvel continues its saga of stereotypical, predictable, and repetitive movies, where female superheros are rarely known as the heroes.