After the new ‘Dr. Strange’ movie, it’s time for an intervention with the Marvel Cinematic Universe
This essay includes spoilers for “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”
Last weekend, I saw “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” just like you wanted me to, Marvel Studios, even though its title sounded like something H.P. Lovecraft would write and the Omicron sequel is playing just about everywhere.
It was my first movie in a theater since November, and I went for the same reason I think most of us did: to see Professor Charles Xavier, founder of the X-Men, finally appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And then you straight up murdered him.
This, Marvel, is how you introduced mutants, the most interesting, varied and socially relevant characters in all of superhero comics, to the MCU: You took their founder, whose message of peaceful coexistence is often compared to that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and snapped his neck right in front of us. Not only that, you had him killed by Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, who in the comic books was responsible for the total decimation of mutants and also mutant storylines for over a decade.
This, Marvel, is how you introduced mutants, the most interesting, varied and socially relevant characters in all of superhero comics, to the MCU.
How dare you, sir. If I had a glove I would toss it to the ground, and it would be pistols at dawn.
The thing is, the murder of Professor X and the other Illuminati doesn’t even make sense. These are seven characters who defeated Thanos by themselves. They’ve had the existence of their entire universe threatened by the incursion of another universe—enjoy the next 10 years of stories, MCU Fans!—and survived. But supposedly they’re not capable of handling one crazy magician?
And God, how sad it is to be describing Wanda Maximoff like that. You spent an entire season of TV and so many movies building up this compelling portrait of a woman who has suffered greatly and grown through it all. Then suddenly overnight she has completely lost her mind.
What’s worse, it’s not even Wanda herself choosing these things; it’s this evil Scarlet Witch thing you came up with that is possessing her. So even as you have made her more powerful than ever, you’ve also completely stripped the character of her agency. No wonder the actress Elizabeth Olson is portrayed hiding in a bunker waiting for the whole thing to end. You’ve taken the strongest female character in the MCU—and also maybe its best actress—and reduced her to the appalling stereotype of the hysterical woman. To quote the prophet Chandler Bing, could you be more afraid of strong women?
You’ve taken the strongest female character in the MCU—and also maybe its best actress—and reduced her to the appalling stereotype of the hysterical woman.
This is why you needed to execute Professor X and his teammates in front of us. The film’s co-writer Michael Waldron has admitted as much: As he was writing the script,he told io9, he realized, “Man, my second act is kind of boring right now, I’m just going to write in all this crazy s—.” Well, mission accomplished, Michael.
“Multiverse” introduces America Chavez, the universe-hopping Latina teenager with two moms, and she is wonderful in every way. That scene where she and Doctor Strange fall between realities is super trippy; I would like a whole movie about the Marvel universe where everything is just paint (#MPU), please and thank you. But everything around her is more tired than Bruce Campbell’s Pizza Poppa vendor after three weeks of having had to attack himself. Wanda is trapped in the girdle you’ve forced her to wear, and the one thing that unfortunately appears to be true in every version of the MCU is that Doctor Strange is an absolute pill. It’s like they took Tony Stark and surgically removed any trace of charisma. Strange is a humorless know-it-all with a terrible accent—no one in New York talks that way, no one—who insists on maintaining a truly terrible dye job. Seriously, if you can do magic, why are you still dyeing your hair? And why in such a weird and creepy way?
At the end of the day, the only true statement in “Multiverse” is the Illuminati’s assertion that in every universe, Doctor Strange turns out to be the destroyer of worlds. And the thing that he kills is my interest.
As Michael Waldron was writing the script, he told io9, he realized, “Man, my second act is kind of boring right now, I’m just going to write in all this crazy s—.” Well, mission accomplished.
Marvel, I know that you delight in a reaction like this. You asked the sweet octogenarian Sir Patrick Stewart, who spent the many months of lockdown reading us all of Shakespeare’s sonnets on Twitter, to deliver one of the most realistic versions of a head snap I’ve ever seen. You also imploded Black Bolt’s head, on the very weekend that Bolt actor Anson Mount’s great new Star Trek show “Strange New Worlds” was debuting, and cut Peggy Carter in two—with her own shield-—precisely so that people would be talking about the film for weeks and months after it’s over, would remember it as iconic despite the fact it was actually dull.
You even introduced Reed Richards, leader of the Fantastic Four, and cast John Krasinksi, who the internet has been clamoring to see in the role. In the small amount of time you gave him, he delivered a more thoughtful and interesting portrait of that character than we have seen onscreen or in the comics. Instead of yet another straight white male Marvel know-it-all, you gave us a guy whose work seems to have left him touched with wonder and immensely kind. You gave us that character, and then you had Wanda flay him into strips like string cheese.
I’m sure you think doing this makes you look punk and edgy. You took all the toys that you know the fans want and then smashed them in front of us. You also wiped out a group of heroes more diverse than any Avengers squads that didn’t consist of at least twice as many people. Take that, woke snowflakes! But you don’t have to live with any consequences, because hey, it’s a multiverse. There’s plenty of other Charles Xaviers out there, right?
In all of pop culture, there is no more diverse group of heroes than the X-Men, nor any set of characters whose stories speak more to the struggles for justice we face in our society today.
But your story universe is supposed to embrace hope where there is no hope. In every movie you insist on putting the humanity of your characters at the center of their storylines. And now you’re turning horrific acts of violence into fanboy Easter eggs and outrage machines? What are you, Facebook?
At some point in the not-too-distant future, you’re going to introduce the X-Men universe properly. And you may think you will be able to chew up their intellectual property like locusts at an all-you-can-eat buffet. But mutants have survived far worse than your desperate need to keep making billion dollar movies. They survived ’90s comics, where everything was enormous guns and ridiculous bodies. They survived Marvel Comics C.E.O. Ike Perlmutter insisting in the 2000s that his editors do literally nothing with X-Men characters for years, because 20th Century Fox owned the rights to the characters in the movies. Did you see “X-Men: Apocalypse?” They survived that.
You may have made Charles Xavier into your chump; by the way, it’s probably the last time Patrick Stewart will play that role, and you had him go out like that. Thanks a lot.
But the rest of that franchise will not go down so easily. And you shouldn’t want them to. You shouldn’t want to use mutant characters just to prop up some weak character or tired franchise. In all of pop culture, there is no more diverse group of heroes than the X-Men, nor any set of characters whose stories speak more to the struggles for justice we face in our society today. These are tales of children confronted by frightening acts of prejudice, who respond with courage and generosity. They are stories about embracing your differences rather than hiding them, about learning that it is precisely the things that make you different that make you special and strong. X-Men books show us where fear will take us as a society, and celebrate the capacity of our found communities to overcome, save and renew. These are the kinds of ideas Marvel celebrates.
Or at least, they are in some universe.