The MCU Doesn’t Deserve Elizabeth Olsen

Deep into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Wanda Maximoff (also known as Scarlet Witch) is on a murderous rampage across the multiverse. Driven by rage, grief, and love, Wanda invades the home base of The Illuminati, a group of superheroes in an alternate reality who protect Earth. This particular version of The Illuminati exists purely as fan service, with cameos from Hayley Atwell as Captain Carter, John Krasinski as Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, and Patrick Stewart as Professor X from the X-Men films. One by one, a bloodied Wanda easily kills every single member. Using her mind, the Scarlet Witch easily shreds Reed Richards like a paper shredder and explodes the mouth of some guy called Black Bolt. I don’t know who Black Bolt is, but I enjoyed seeing his head explode.

In order to spend her life with the children she created with her magic in WandaVision, Wanda intends to steal the power of traveling through the multiverse from America Chavez. The process will kill America, but Wanda sees her as collateral damage; a means to her happy end. Within the MCU, Wanda has experienced a tremendous amount of pain. She lost her parents in a bombing when she was a child, she lost her brother in a battle against Ultron, she accidentally killed civilians when she lost control of her powers and as a result, was put on house arrest by her friends, and she had to remove the life source from Vision, the love of her life, in order to save the universe from Thanos. The 2021 limited series WandaVision was about Wanda’s grief, and her journey in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a continuation — or, more so the consequence of her actions in WandaVision.

The Illuminati massacre is Elizabeth Olsen, who has played Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch since 2014’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, at her most terrifying and most vulnerable. Wanda is seduced by dark magic but motivated by good intentions. She’s goal-oriented, which explains the murder spree, but deep down the hero buried deep inside of her is conflicted about the damage she’s causing and the many lives she’s responsible for taking. Olsen conveys all this with her face. A glance, a widened eye or mouth quiver behind a face covered in blood. In this moment, and several other moments throughout the film, I found myself rooting for Wanda. In both WandaVision — which earned Olsen an Emmy nomination last year— and Doctor Strange Into the Multiverse of Madness, Olsen delivers a performance undeserving of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Olsen’s striking, impassioned performance, a perfect balance to co-star Benedict Cumberbatch’s quiet one, anchors the film. Likely aided and influenced by (real) visionary director Sam Raimi, Olsen believably captures the grief of a mother longing for the children she cannot have with elements of horror and manages to deliver iconic villain moments and, ultimately, an earned return to heroism. Elizabeth Olsen is one of the few actors in MCU history who can tell a story with their face while moving their hands and body to unintelligible visual effects, and who can perform expositional dialogue effectively. Olsen does more than deliver quippy one-liners in a tight costume. The MCU isn’t completely lacking in good performances. But that’s just it: they’re good at best, with a few exceptions including Tom Hiddleston as Loki (a performance so powerful that the character was brought back from the dead several times), Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther, who together brought a necessary human element to the franchise.

While Olsen is most known for playing Wanda Maximoff, her other, lesser-known performances prove she’s a force and one of the best actors of her generation, including 2011’s Martha Macy May Marlene, her mesmerizing feature film debut, the Facebook Watch original Sorry For Your Loss, Ingrid Goes West, and Wind River opposite fellow Avenger Jeremy Renner. Olsen is also a fun, brutally honest celebrity, between a Harper’s Bazaar skincare video in which she notes that she is from Los Angeles but does not own crystals, and criticizing the criticism of Marvel movies in a good way: by celebrating the crew members who make these movies happen. “I’m not saying we’re making indie art films, but I just think it takes away from our crew, which bugs me. “These are some of the most amazing set designers, costume designers, camera operators ― I feel diminishing them with that kind of criticism takes away from all the people who do award-winning films, who also work on these projects,” she told The Independent.

Anything can happen in the MCU – especially when your character is as popular as Wanda/Scarlet Witch has become – but Wanda’s fate in Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness suggests, for now, that Elizabeth Olsen is up for grabs. While she’s free from the IP monolith, it’s time for Olsen to be in conversation with her Oscar-favorite peers including Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone.