SPOILERS! SPOILERS! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD AND ALL THAT IS HOLY, THIS WILL BE SPOILED! IT WILL BE CURDLED BY THE TIME WE’RE DONE.
As long as that’s clear.
One of the things that amazed me most about Avengers: Endgame was the payoff for every single character, delivering on things I did not expect them to deliver on, from movies dating back all the way to the beginning. Every single previous MCU film gets referenced, and all of those references are done in a way that makes sense. I loved seeing a balance of utterly unexpected moments and, well, utterly expected moments because it made it so clear that the story had been looked at from every angle and decisions were sometimes made with the mindset that even if a moment is expected, that doesn’t mean it’s not the right moment.
In the third act, we’re treated to one of the biggest, most insane on-screen battles I’ve ever seen. In a move that everyone saw coming, the snap is undone and everybody comes back. But it’s handled with such weight, it’s executed at such a perfect time, that it’s still emotionally resonant in a way I did not see coming. What it results in, though, is several moments I absolutely did not expect. Once Captain America finally says the line and the battle begins in earnest, everyone gets their moment in the sun. And even still, there’s a moment that sent my jaw plummeting to the floor and that I absolutely did not expect to see.
And that’s the moment when Scarlet Witch unleashes holy hell on Thanos.
Now, when Scarlet Witch was announced for the MCU, a lot of people were concerned (and rightfully so) about how they would step around the fact that she was a mutant. I felt at the time—and honestly still feel—that the best way to go about it would be to just not acknowledge where her powers come from, because it’s the Marvel Universe and an audience can accept that there are all kinds of people who do all kinds of wacky things. If the HYDRA angle had to be included, then making Wanda and Pietro unwitting experiments would also have made sense. It was probably the worst decision possible to take two canonically Jewish characters and ally them with HYDRA, an organization that even in the MCU started out as a subset of the Nazis—prided itself, in fact, on being worse than the Nazis—and held to those same beliefs for the next seventy years.
I bring that up because Wanda’s role in the MCU started with a pretty bad decision and has only gotten better, and better, and better since then. Even by the end of Age of Ultron we have one of my favorite moments of that film, easily, when Wanda—who has never been in a fight like this—is given the chance to weigh whether or not she wants to do this, is given a chance to back out of the fight, is not drafted into the Avengers by happenstance but allowed to come to her own decision. And when her moment comes, stepping out of that bunker and destroying everything around her, she soars. It’s the first time we get to see just how powerful she is, how powerful she could be, and it’s the first time she gets to see that as well.
This moment is paralleled in a darker way, not much later, when Pietro is killed. The moment it happens, when she feels her brother die, without even so much as a wave of her hands, she destroys every single robot in the vicinity. She’s like a bomb. Standing in the falling city with no intention of saving herself, she kills Ultron himself by simply flicking his “heart” out of his body. She’s powerful and she’s angry, but these things aren’t ever really given that much focus in her debut movie.
It’s worth noting that Wanda’s history in the comics is somewhat rocky. She’s always been an incredible character and an important Avenger, but controversial story arcs like Avengers: Disassembled and House of M eventually depicted her as a dangerous, mentally unstable risk to the team, with her teammates gathering to even discuss whether or not she was fit to live. There are great moments in there, too, but those big plot points are hard to overlook. When you read something like The Dark Phoenix saga, you feel a genuine love for Jean as a character, despite what’s happening to her. It’s hard to feel that level of love for Scarlet Witch in either of those stories. It’s even worse when there’s no outside force responsible. Scarlet Witch’s decimation of the Avengers in Disassembled is literally the result of a nervous breakdown. I’m bringing this up because this is how people thought of Scarlet Witch at the time she was brought to the big screen. This is what people knew. At this point in time, in the comics, her power was considered to be something that even the heroes and the reader were supposed to be afraid of.
This defines much of her arc in Captain America: Civil War. She is responsible for an explosion that leads to the loss of civilian lives, but it’s not anything like her killing half the team without realizing it in the comics. She’s reacting to a bomb as it’s going off and attempting to dispose of it is an instinctual, reflexive moment and she’s not fast enough to get it into the air without hurting people. But the treatment of her by the team is somewhat the same. The media is mentioning her by name, she’s being told to be scared of her own power—something that absolutely resonates from the comics—and her entire arc in that movie leads her to a decision to embrace her strength no matter how much she is told to suppress it.
In Infinity War, she’s the only one with the power to destroy the mind stone in Vision’s head before Thanos can get his hands on it. Suddenly, we have a movie where her role revolves around the fact that she is only one with the strength to do something, but unfortunately that something would also result in the death of her lover. Avengers: Infinity War hinges on Wanda’s power in some amazing ways that I’m still stunned by as a fan of this character. We have a moment echoing her destruction of those Ultron bots in the second Avengers movie, on a much bigger scale, when she takes out several massive machines that are demolishing the battlefield, all at once. It’s amazing to see this strength acknowledged with a smirk from Okoye and the line, “Why was she up there all this time?”
But it’s even more amazing when the movie answers that question. Knowing that they would not be able to get in and get the stone with her still guarding it, the entire invasion of Wakanda was done specifically to draw her out. That’s an acknowledgement of how vital, important and absolutely powerful she is that I just did not expect to see. When she’s forced to kill Vision, she holds Thanos off with one hand and finishes what she has to do before he reverses time and makes her see that her sacrifice was meaningless. It’s a gut punch as she has to do it, only for him to do it anyway. Every Avenger has lost something, most have lost someone, but Wanda has lost a lot. She’s lost as much as Clint loses during the snap. Wanda’s lost her parents, her brother, her lover, and the difference is that hers isn’t coming back.
That brings us to that moment in Endgame. When Scarlet Witch lands on the battlefield in front of Thanos, eyes blazing red with intent to kill. My favorite Avenger, who has never even been centrally featured on any of the damn posters. But when I saw it opening night, half my theater gasped and the other half cheered. This Thanos has no idea who the hell she is, but her delivery of “You will,” I’m happy to say, led to a hushed “Oh, shit” from the person behind me. This scene is twofold, because it also tells us for the first time that Vision truly isn’t coming back. That once again, Wanda will have to live with her loss. And it does the unthinkable, because it actually means that for once a male character was killed off to further a woman’s character development.
Scarlet Witch is mad as hell and takes on Thanos by herself. But much, much more than that: she wins. Even with the strength shown in Infinity War, I expected nothing like this because I knew Captain Marvel was going to appear in Endgame and she’d already been (rightfully) established as the female powerhouse of the MCU. It pulled the rug out from under me to see that the team behind this movie were still intent on making it clear that Wanda was as powerful if not more powerful than ever. It’s stunning to see her take on Thanos by herself, even better to see her have him on the ropes, but then she gets him. Scarlet Witch is surging with energy, lifting him into the air, and Thanos makes the call to start bombing his own troops as a last resort to avoid an imminent death at her hands.
This is such a long way from the “Wanda’s too powerful and potentially unfit to live” mentality of the House of M era of comics. This is a woman harnessing pure rage to whup wholesale ass on the man who took the last thing she had left to lose, who comes nearer than any other character save maybe the two Caps, to saving the universe by herself. When she was announced, I remember everyone assuming that the MCU would build her toward something like House of M or Disassembled. And I couldn’t be happier with what they elected to do instead, showcasing the Scarlet Witch not as an unworkable and highly outdated metaphor for dangerously unchecked mental illness, not demonizing her rage but portraying it as a source of her strength, and allowing her to be on the big screen what she is and has always been at her best: an absolute force of nature.