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Marvel Universe: Being All Powerful, It Turns Out, Is Very Boring
The Mirror Dimension in Multiverse of Madness dispenses with sharp intellectual conflict, opting for unexplained power plays instead
Last time, we talked abut the absurdity of the way the conflict between Wanda Maximoff and Dr. Strange is set up. That’s the conflict which leads us to the attack on the ultimate fortress of the Sorcerer Supreme, Kamar-Taj.
Considering what we’ve been told, the temple and its defenses are lackluster, to say the least. Wanda breaks through them with ease but there is a more fundamental problem with the struggle as a whole: The writers appear to lack a proper understanding of how the magical characters in the Marvel Universe operate.
Marvel’s original genius in developing superheroes included giving every character different strengths and weaknesses. The game is somewhat like Rock–Paper–Scissors where Superhero A can beat Superhero B — but Superhero C can beat Superhero A. Very few characters can simply overpower the others through pure force — and even then a device such as the Infinity Gauntlet might give a character additional power. This balance created opportunities for compelling storytelling within the comics. A weaker character such as Captain America could shine through the use of inventive tactics to overcome more powerful characters.
Some Marvel Cinematic Universe writers have utilized this principle well. For example, in Spiderman: No Way Home, Peter Parker is trapped within the Mirror Dimension. The Mirror Dimension is a realm Dr. Strange can manipulate at will, and he uses it to trap and confuse opponents. However, because Peter Parker is a scientific genius, he realizes that the Mirror Dimension is constructed of a series of geometric patterns. The various pieces of floating debris are actually following a pattern, similar to an orbit. Using this knowledge, he shoots various trip wires into the debris and is able to trap Dr. Strange in a web. Although, Dr. Strange knows how to open the Mirror Dimension and is a genius in his own right, his major wasn’t geometry, so he doesn’t realize what Peter Parker is doing until it’s too late. After this, Peter is able to steal Dr. Strange’s sling ring and return to the real world. This is an inventive way for one superhero’s specific powers to plausibly outwit another’s.
However, the writers for this movie were not nearly as clever. They didn’t seem to understand how the magic of the characters in the Marvel Universe operates. A YouTuber named Rags referred to the magical characters in the Marvel Universe as Glass Cannons. That is to say, characters like Wanda Maximoff and Dr. Strange are very powerful at a distance, but they need time and space to make their attacks work; however, at close range, they are just as frail as any human, so one hit can often take them out of the field.
The writers chose to ignore this limitation during the siege of Kamar-Taj. At one point, Wanda is hit with a magical cannon. This should’ve killed her, but it didn’t because the writers forgot the frailty of the magical characters in the Marvel Universe.
This may seem like nitpicking, but these moments are a big deal. Rules of this sort are the way a writer establishes emotional stakes in a story. If the viewer knows what the character can — and cannot — do, the intensity of any conflict spikes. The viewer will often try to guess how the character can escape a given predicament, thus stays engaged with the story. But if the character can simply shake off anything, then the viewer has no reason to stay invested and will quickly check out.
When Wanda Maximoff destroys Kamar-Taj, the viewer may feel nothing because rules which previously applied to Wanda and Dr. Strange have been ignored. Furthermore, the powers of the Darkhold have so far remained undefined. Wanda is now all powerful, so she is going to clear the map. Therefore, viewers are just waiting for the whole thing to be over, so they can see the next thing that happens in the hopes that the next scene might be a little more interesting.
This problem persists. After Wanda has destroyed the temple, Dr. Strange finally tries to trap her in a Mirror Dimension, but the impressive visuals and patterns are gone. All the viewer sees is a bunch of reflections. Eventually, some spikes jut out at her when she tries to get free. But unlike Peter Parker, who studied the Mirror Dimension and came up with an inventive solution to his problem, Wanda simply sticks her hand through her own reflection as if the Mirror Dimension is little more than a puddle of water — and then she uses the reflection of a gong to escape. There is no background information to clarify how she able to do this so easily when nobody else could. Wanda is just all powerful, and the viewer must accept that.
It gets worse. Dr. Strange tries to leave the temple using his sling ring but Wanda, while still in the Mirror Dimension, simply disintegrates the rings. How she knew where Strange was is not explained. How she is so easily able to destroy these magic relics is also unexplained. How she was able to destroy the rings while still in the mirror dimension is never even brought up. She’s just all powerful, so she can do whatever she wants. But if she’s all powerful, then why didn’t she just blink Strange out of existence? What, if anything, is the extent of her powers?
The reason we never get an answer to these questions is that every event in this scene is a mere contrivance. The writers were not smart enough to keep Dr. Strange in the temple. They were not smart enough to find a way out of the Mirror Dimension that was unique to Wanda’s identified powers. So, they made Wanda Maximoff all-powerful in the hopes the viewer wouldn’t notice the inconsistencies.
In the end, Wanda corners Strange and America Chavez and tries to steal America’s powers, but America opens a portal at the last minute and Dr. Strange grabs her and leaps inside, taking them into the multiverse — which we’ll discuss next time.