Introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch is both beautiful and powerful. Surprisingly enough, though, she's also very different to the Scarlet Witch we know and love in the comics — but that may be about to change!
How is the MCU's Scarlet Witch Different?
In the comics, Scarlet Witch is a powerful sorceress. She's traditionally been associated with a unique force known as "Chaos Magic", which can warp the fabric of reality itself. At times, her power-levels have seemed off the charts; Marvel used her to literally create an alternate reality in the "House of M" arc, where a single ill-judged spell wiped out the powers of 90% of the world's mutants! In her current ongoing, writer James Robinson has stripped this back a bit, revealing that Wanda is one of the most powerful witches living today. It's an excellent series, and well worth checking out.
In the MCU, though, Wanda is no sorceress. We learned that Scarlet Witch and her brother Quicksilver subjected themselves to a Hydra experiment, where they were exposed to the power of the Mind Gem. This resulted in the twins gaining superhuman powers; Wanda became a telepath and a telekinetic.
The power of telepathy was used to spectacular effect in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but Scarlet Witch's last appearance — in Captain America: Civil War — centered upon her telekinesis. She's learned to use telekinesis to levitate, to create energy shields, and even to (unsuccessfully) restrict the energy of a bomb. It's a powerset more akin to the X-Men's Jean Grey than the classic Scarlet Witch, and it's pretty startling.
Why Did Marvel Change This?
As I've discussed in an earlier post, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a risky proposition from the get-go. On one thing Marvel seemed certain: there was no place for magic. This was signposted most clearly in 2011's Thor, where even the mystical realm of Asgard was explained away in terms that would have satisfied Arthur C. Clarke.
"Your ancestors called it magic, and you call it science. Well, I come from a place where they're one and the same thing."
This was the MCU's classic approach to magic: if you wanted to see it, it was there, in enchanted hammers and words of banishment. If you didn't want to see magic in your superhero world, then Thor himself gave you a convenient explanation; Asgardian sorcery is simply so advanced that it looks like magic to us.
But Marvel's attitude has changed. We saw hints of a changing mindset in Thor: The Dark World, and with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. dipping its toe in the mystical water with the character of Lorelei. This year has marked the most dramatic shift, though, with Daredevil Season 2 embracing the Hand's resurrection spells, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. unveiling Ghost Rider and already making mention of the Darkhold, and — crucially — Doctor Strange soon to hit the big screen! The (magic) cat is out of the bag.
Is A Change In Store for the Scarlet Witch?
All this is great news for fans of Scarlet Witch, because it looks as though Marvel has decided to retcon her, making her magical after all. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige explained:
“Her powers, she’s never had any training, I’m talking about Scarlet Witch. She never had any training; she’s figuring it out. Arguably, you could say that that’s why her powers are much more chaotic and much more loose in the way that we showcased those light effects. In [Doctor Strange], some of what you might see today, even the cover of Entertainment Weekly, it’s much tighter. It’s all about focus. It’s all about pulling energies from other dimensions in an organized and purposeful fashion, which is why they can do a lot more than she can in, at least, a much more precise way.”
According to Kevin Feige, Scarlet Witch is doing exactly the same things as the Masters of the Mystic Arts — pulling energies from other dimensions and unleashing them into our own. The difference is, Scarlet Witch has never had any training, and is working it out on her own. The Masters of the Mystic Arts are trained, and as such can wield the same energies with a greater degree of skill.
The key point, for me, is this: Scarlet Witch's powers are no longer simply 'scientific' in nature. Whatever the Mind Gem did to Wanda, it somehow unlocked the mystical potential within her; it gave her an innate link to the fabric of reality, enabling her to pull power and energy from other dimensions and wield it in our own. It's great news, because we're moving to a Scarlet Witch far more closely aligned to the one comic book fans know and love.
All this sets up some potentially tremendous arcs for Scarlet Witch. In press screenings for Civil War, Joe Russo suggested that we'd see Wanda step up to her powers in Avengers: Infinity War. Tantalizingly, Benedict Cumberbatch recently suggested there's a "logistical challenge of aligning his schedule with... Elizabeth Olsen". He was clearly referring to Infinity War (he also named a host of other characters), so it looks as though Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch are destined to interact. Is it possible Scarlet Witch will eventually train under Doctor Strange, as she did in the comics?
- Has Marvel Missed a Trick With Scarlet Witch?
- Breaking Down Scarlet Witch's Role in Captain America: Civil War
- Could We Get A Solo Scarlet Witch Film?
I freely admit that I've always hoped the MCU would restore Scarlet Witch's comic book powerset; she's always been so much more than a second-rate Jean Grey. It looks like I'm about to get my wish — if Kevin Feige's comment is anything to go by, Scarlet Witch is returning to a somewhat more magical status quo. That looks set to put her on a course that will take her into the presence of Doctor Strange, and who knows where the MCU will go from there...
If Doctor Strange ends up tutoring Scarlet Witch in the MCU, we hope he teaches her his sweet superhero take-off moves...
Are you excited that Marvel is restoring Scarlet Witch's powerset? Let me know in the comments!