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Commentary: How Marvel finally unleashed Elizabeth Olsen's deadly versatility

The spellbinding and grieving avenger has been blazing a trail up to her show-stopping performance in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." Here's how.
Credit: Disney/Marvel
Elizabeth Olsen's Wanda Maximoff in the new Marvel film, "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness."

ST. LOUIS — A vengeance-seeking mother can be a dangerous and quite deadly sight to behold. Just ask any character who interacts with Elizabeth Olsen's Wanda Maximoff in the new Marvel film, "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." Even Benedict Cumberbatch's quirky yet cunning Doctor is really no match for her, at least not by himself. 

Few souls, Earth-made or extraterrestrial, should get in a mad mom's way.

This is where I inform you to stop reading if you haven't seen the movie or care for complex, partially overreaching deep dive commentaries like this one because SPOILERS are about to break loose out of my mind!

One more time, *SPOILER* warning.

Alright, let's get into the reasons why Olsen is the unpredictable magic/spell hybrid that makes things go haywire in the sequel. 

First off, audiences shouldn't see her coming this time, at least not before browsing social media. They should rename Twitter as "Spoiled." Back in "Avengers: Age of Ultron," Wanda was a rebellious and quite vengeful young woman who, along with her now-deceased brother Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), wanted to destroy Tony Stark enterprises and see his team lose the big battle. But she came around and took Hawkeye's (Jeremy Renner) advice on owning her actions and mistakes. If only that was where the harshest times happened.

Any MCU fan should know that Olsen's heroine was forever changed by the actions in "Infinity War," where she had to literally kill the love of her life (Paul Bettany's Vision) in order to save the world from Thanos (Josh Brolin). Or "try" to save the world, at least. Her mission failed, Vision was dead, and Wanda "blipped" for five years due to the mad titan's timely finger snap. It was there that her actions in "Multiverse of Madness" were truly born.

It was shortly after the win in the following "Endgame" that Wanda made her first attempt at normalcy. 

In Jac Schaeffer's "WandaVision," she created an entire town and world with Westview. It was there that Vision returned and they had two kids together on a street that could have been yanked out of "The Truman Show." All seemed well until it was not, where Wanda found out the United States government and S.W.O.R.D. were still watching her moves and monitoring her world. From there, the seemingly very friendly neighbor (Kathryn Hahn) grew an evil spell of her own, and battled Wanda.

The Avenger was victorious, but her self-designed world was permanently shattered. Vision was taken away, and so were her kids. As Strange shows up in "Multiverse of Madness," she throws up a quick defense of her actions in Westview that the stressed Doctor quickly discards. The early trailers and previews led one to believe that they would be allies in this battle over the unstable set of worlds and how their blending into one another can have repercussions. It was Spider-Man's actions in December's "No Way Home" that led Strange down this maze, but it appears Wanda was merely waiting for him to fall into the trap.

The nightmare that Strange claims to be having has been about the wrong thing. His real nightmare in the sequel is Olsen's broken woman, one so depleted morally that she is willing to sacrifice civilians, and fellow Avengers', lives in order to bring balance to her own crumbling world. As she fights Strange and his unlikely band of allies-including franchise vet Benedict Wong and newcomer Xochitl Gomez-Wanda is moving around the different universes where her children are still alive and well in Westview.

RELATED: Review: Bolder than most Marvel films, Sam Raimi's 'Doctor Strange' packs a punch


These violent actions only cause the portal issue to spiral, and the multiverse to continue to wreak havoc on Strange and his heroic combatants. But every time the viewer could expect Wanda's mighty threshold on the situation weakened by her vulnerable conscience, the mad mom pushed back with a more signature action. Those cameos that have been heavily discussed don't make it past a single scene due to simply getting in her way.

The often-rumor and long-discussed John Krasinski could one day get a stand-alone Reed Richards movie, but he was turned into string cheese by Wanda. Hayley Atwell's other dimension of Captain America is literally cut in half, while other members of the Marvel Illuminati don't get much better of a fate. One of the best scenes in the MCU lexicon will be Olsen ripping through everyone while barefoot and covered in blood.

Carrying two small yet fiery red balls of doom, Wanda is ferocious. When have we seen this level of death and shock in the 28-movie deep bench of Marvel's reign? Nowhere. Cate Blanchett's scorned sister in "Thor Ragnarok" was vicious and deadly, but she would be no match for Ms. Maximoff, recent widow and grieving mother.

The fact that she had the chance to build her own perfect life, after countless destruction and loss, is what made this loss so deep and damaging for her. Wanda's grip on reality wasn't exactly firm in "WandaVision," but she was doing something that she wanted. In "Multiverse of Madness," she's just looking for revenge--and a way to spend another night or so with her children. At one point in the film, Olsen's antihero proclaims, "I am not a monster; I am a mother." 

If that isn't considered art, what is in the movies? 

Any mother or parent can relate to this state of mind, minus the bloodshed, and that's what makes the MCU especially potent at their best. As Renner's hapless arrow specialist would humorously agree, finding actual realism in these movies is impossible. It doesn't make sense, but it can still make you feel something.

What makes this latest sequel especially potent in its own right is Olsen's performance in this particular blend of "Madness." We feel and witness the duality in her dismay, an aching bone that has somehow pierced her soul and won't move. It takes a talented actress to dig into all of that and somehow keep you on her side to the end--a task Olsen is more than up to.

Micheal Waldron's "Multiverse of Madness" script shows her range. Olsen has been great before, especially in Taylor Sheridan's flawless "Wind River." But doing it years after that breakthrough role, and on this kind of epic scale, took a signature blend of ingredients. Best of which is time spent with her throughout the MCU entries. She's always a small supporting character or a heel, or both. But every time the screen belongs to her-a different kind of movie starts to play. One that is more powerful.

Remember her work towards the end of "Ultron," where she literally rips the main antagonist's machine heart out of his chest for being responsible for his brother's death. The trembling voice Olsen put on in that moment, coupled with the evil stare at Ultron's soul in the palm of her hand, showed that stacking the chips against Wanda is the biggest mistake a superhuman could make. Bad idea, Strange.

What's a good idea? Go watch Elizabeth Olsen in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness." Marvel fan or not, you will admire her work in this one.

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