Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Why One Multiverse Film Got It Right While The Other Did Not

By Robert Dougherty 

Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” are incredibly obvious to compare as multiverse movies. But beyond their studios, budgets, purposes, cinematic universes, and past cinematic inspirations, there is one way to tell them apart that is the most glaring of them all.


Both of these movies have an all-powerful, heavily traumatized, colorfully murderous young woman positioned as the story’s central villain, who threatens the multiverse just to pursue an alternate version of a family member she lost in her own universe. But one of these movies turns its supposedly unstable, monstrous, and irredeemable female antagonist into something far more than a villain, who, in fact, may well be among the poignant, heartbreaking, and sympathetic characters of the year so far.

The other movie is “Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness.”

It is almost unfathomable how similar “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’s” version of Wanda Maximoff and “Everything Everywhere All at Once’s” Joy/Jobu Tupaki appear to be on the surface and how unfathomably different they are treated by their own movies. Despite all of Jobu’s ultra-stylistic killings and damage to the multiverse, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” ultimately makes us feel for her, not just because she is the alternate version of Evelyn’s equally tormented daughter Joy. Yet on the other side of the spectrum, “Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness” has little resembling a shred of such genuine mercy for Wanda, as it slaughters her character beyond repair as much as she slaughters sorcerers and multiversal superheroes.

Wanda is twisted into supervillainy for the purpose of Kevin Feige’s misguided plotlines, Michael Waldron’s misguided adaptation of Feige’s plotlines, and for Sam Raimi’s remixing his 80s horror movie tricks for a modern PG-13 superhero audience. But without the context of their character assassination of Wanda after “WandaVision,” and their inability to imagine a long tormented and all-powerful female character could heal instead of turn insane like Jean Grey and Daenerys Targaryen, there is very little about Wanda’s storyline that doesn’t resemble Joy’s – or at least look like the opposite side of the same coin.

So then why is “Everything Everywhere All at Once” so loving towards such a character like Joy, while “Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness” is so irresponsible if not downright prejudiced in its treatment of Wanda, despite having virtually the same ideas for them?

One self-evident reason is that each movie has very different responsibilities. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is just meant to be a one-shot movie, while “Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness” is just the latest cog of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a result, Joy/Jobu is a brand new character with a clean slate, while Wanda has appeared in five movies and starred in one TV show before reaching this point. 

Therefore, Wanda’s past appearances and baggage sparked a massive debate on whether “Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness” was her next logical step, a logical step that was mishandled, in line with where “WandaVision” set her up to go, or a complete mistake compared to the far more positive and more original places she could have gone instead. With Wanda’s rocky history in the comics and with Feige’s almost pathological inability to greenlight a Wanda MCU plotline that doesn’t pile on her trauma, sins, or questions about whether she’s evil now, it casts a historical context that doesn’t reflect well on “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’s” perspective of her. And that is before taking into account the endless “powerful traumatized woman is too unstable” storylines through the decades in pop culture.

Considering all that, actually launching a redemptive Wanda story in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and letting her have her first chance at lasting healing in her MCU tenure might as well have been the most courageous, risky, and imaginative move in MCU history. However, by doing the exact opposite, Feige and his human shields instantly make this the laziest, least risky, and least creative where it really counts chapter in MCU history, no matter how much they think Raimi’s camera movements and violent kills prove otherwise.

For that matter, if they wanted to do an “evil powerful woman in the multiverse” story that badly, they could have just made the mid-credits scene into the real “Doctor Strange” sequel and bumped Wanda to another project with more thought put into it. Such a revised movie might have yielded the same problems and tropes, but it might have been less controversial and bitter for some to watch with a brand new character in the MCU, who’d have been more of a blank slate to casual viewers. Yet even then, it wouldn’t have been the complete blank slate that benefited Joy and Jobu by comparison in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

Wanda Maximoff Jobu Tupaki

Joy and Jobu do not have Wanda’s kind of history and unique challenges to live up to since they are completely original characters in an original movie that isn’t part of a cinematic universe. There’s no need to debate whether Jobu’s rampages are in character, are regressive for her character, or whether they’re another in a long line of black marks against her character, unlike with Wanda. While that takes away one big obstacle to judge Joy/Jobu in a way that Wanda can seemingly never be allowed to have, this is just the half of it.

​”Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” reduces Wanda to nothing more than a deranged mother looking to kidnap versions of her sons from another universe – sons that don’t even call for help to her as they did at the very end of “WandaVision.” There have obviously been a lot of potential regressive stereotypes around such premises and characters over the years in pop culture. Yet Feige, Waldron, and Raimi seem to care about everything else under the sun but avoid them for Wanda’s sake.

On the other hand, Joy/Jobu’s motivations are not steeped in such backward potholes. Like Wanda, her goal is to capture a version of a family member from another universe – in this case, an alternate version of the mother who experimented on her and fractured her mind to see the entire multiverse. But unlike Wanda, she isn’t trying to capture another Evelyn out of loss, demonic book possession, or supposedly losing her mind after a lifetime of loss. All she wants is someone else who could understand her and perhaps even save her from taking the final step into oblivion.

Jobu’s belief in nothingness isn’t just from seeing every universe but from the more profound pain of every Joy in the multiverse, especially the central Joy. As a young gay Asian woman with a mother who tolerates but doesn’t fully accept or understand her sexuality, with an aimless direction in her life perhaps inherited from her mother, and with an increasing lack of hope in any future involving her mother, Joy is suffering inside like Jobu even before Jobu inhabits her body. And while Jobu is far more powerful, homicidal and devout to an “everything bagel” than Joy, they are the same person in more than just genetics because they share the same deep, existential pain about who and what they are or are seen to be.

Yet when Jobu emerges, no one from any universe seems to understand that, as they all believe only killing her will save the multiverse. Even when the central Evelyn stands alone in trying to save her instead of destroying her, she is still a long way from understanding who or what both Joy and Jobu are – to the point where she’s relieved at first to think Jobu is the real reason Joy is gay. But as time goes on and Evelyn sees more from every universe and every Joy and Jobu, she can finally see her daughter in every form. From there, she can lead the way in altogether rejecting that she’s too powerful and unstable to be salvaged.

This almost radical idea, and how “Everything Everywhere All at Once” upholds it and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” rejects it, is especially clear from the end of both films. In their climaxes, both Joy and Wanda seem to get what they’ve always wanted – for Joy, a mother who can finally stand up for her and what she is, and for Wanda, the chance to reclaim her children even if they aren’t really hers. Yet, for Joy, her past pain and turmoil with Evelyn make her grand gesture too little too late, as she insists they go their separate ways in multiple universes – which may or may not lead to her ultimate nothingness. And for Wanda, her “reunion” with her children is shattered when they are too terrified of what she has become, finally snapping her from her stupor.

But when they each get what they thought they always wanted and then lose it, only one is allowed a happy ending or immediate survival. Another grand speech from Evelyn finally breaks through to Joy, shattering the influence of Jobu and shattering her belief that her mother couldn’t truly want the real her once and for all. Yet, for Wanda, rejecting the darkness she has become requires her to kill herself – or at least appear dead before a typical future MCU resurrection – to destroy the evil power of the Darkhold and punish herself for her crimes in place of having any chance at a fuller redemption and reconciliation storyline anytime soon.

At that point, Wanda’s actions – or more accurately, the actions of her producer and writer who created them – have framed her too far gone for any greater mercy, at least for now. The tradition of pushing powerful traumatized women over the edge and then punishing them for it by their male writers’ design and giving them only token redemption at most before destroying them stays alive and well in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” no matter how much it never had to. Anything with greater compassion, care, and originality for such women now seems to be a foreign concept for Feige, if not Marvel as a whole. Even if there’s a bigger picture for Wanda ahead, they’ve lost any trust to do it actual convincing justice after this debacle.

At the very least, Feige and his Marvel team hardly have the far more open minds that Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, and the “Everything Everywhere All at Once” team have for such women. Of course, since Joy is, for many reasons, the kind of woman Marvel and most blockbuster universes would never create or make a central character out of – especially at Disney – it could be the only place such a character can find this much more is in a smaller one-off movie.

Joy/Jobu Tupaki and Wanda Maximoff/the Scarlet Witch are two incredibly similar women in both power, theatricality, and being villainized by the world around them. But only one is in a movie that respects who and what they are beyond their powers and killings, gives them a natural support system, and people who actually want to save her even if they don’t really know how, isn’t furthering a larger pattern of lazy suffering and character torture for the sake of a whole cinematic universe, and isn’t in a bubble where women with grand power and loss must only cause suffering and receive ten times more. This makes “Everything Everywhere All at Once” the ultimate rejection of one of the most hateful tropes against powerful women in pop culture and one of the many significant reasons why it is such a cinematic unicorn.

While it is tempting to say this shows how “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” could have made that trope work with far better writing and continuity, the absolute truth is Feige should never have conceived or approved it, even if it had Oscar-worthy writing. Yet the MCU, the checkered comic history of Wanda, the repetitive torture or near-villainizing of her in almost every MCU appearance even before this, and the loathsome large scale resurrections of the “crazy powerful woman” troupe in “Game of Thrones” and the various “X-Men Dark Phoenix” stories, all combine to make “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” a Wanda horror show well beyond the one Feige, Waldron and Raimi intended – and just didn’t care enough to think was a real problem.

This, above all, is why “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is the true movie of the multiverse in 2022 – not just because of the Daniels, Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, all the actual imagination of this multiverse, all its messages of hope and love instead of evil and horror, and of course Stephanie Hsu as Joy and Jobu themselves. For anyone who watches Wanda and is disappointed or furious about what she’s turned into, for no fully defensible reason, the best thing to wash the bitter taste may just be a space bagel – and the far greater care towards its powerful, suffering yet still allowed to be loved female creator.

Which film had the stronger female antagonist in your opinion? Everything Everywhere All at Once” or “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness?” Which film do you prefer between the two? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.

You can follow Robert and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @robertdoc1984

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