There are a lot of moving components in a film with a title like “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” That’s a guarantee in any modern Marvel film, especially one that includes breaking through the multiverse while a strong witch wields chaos magic, given all the interrelated plots and the growing list of heroes. With Sam Raimi in charge, the MCU has seen some of the most peculiar and memorable moments, but it also means that other aspects are neglected. In this instance, the female protagonists of the Strange sequels are the ones who suffer the most. Wanda Maximoff perceives this as a total betrayal of her “WandaVision” narrative, while Christine Palmer views this as the second Rachel McAdams-wasteful Marvel film. But what happens to America Chavez in the very movie that brings the beloved character to the cinematic side of Marvel storylines is the most terrible.
America (Xochitl Gomez), a mysterious multiverse-hopping teen on the run from an evil force attempting to steal her talents, is revealed to be the teenager wearing a jeans jacket in all the trailers. Priority one is to keep her safe, so Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) asks Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) for assistance in protecting the strong object, er, girl, from the grasp of evil. When he realises Wanda is the scary person responsible for all the monster attacks, the narrative thickens. Her witchy warpath thus begins (with an alarmingly high body count) America spends the first 90 minutes narrowly escaping captivity from Wanda before the third act begins and the inevitable conflict takes centre stage. We alternate between Doctor Strange yearning for a version of his ex-girlfriend and Wanda yearning to reconcile with her variant children throughout the entire episode. America is ultimately left behind.
There are several spoilers for “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” so beware.
America’s wasted potential
America Chavez (also known as Miss America), as she is depicted in the comics, is an ultimate badass. Whether it’s flying at the speed of light with Captain Marvel or punching Loki through a window, the independent, portal-punching super can hold her own against some of Marvel’s most formidable characters. America was born in a place beyond space and time, but she fled her home following a tragic incident that tore her family apart. She spent her early years hopping between realms until settling as a vigilante on Earth. Her capacity to kick or punch holes into reality and open portals to other universes sets her apart from other superheroes even though she possesses all the necessary superpowers of flight, super speed, and strength. America was initially introduced to Marvel Comic readers in 2011, and her appeal rose to the point that she joined the Young Avengers and became the first Latina lesbian protagonist in a live-action Marvel series. The anticipation for her MCU debut was intense due to Marvel Studios’ efforts to diversify its hero roster, extend its roster of heroes, and drop hints about a Young Avengers narrative to come. However, there was always cause for concern.
One issue is that Marvel’s track record with queer characters is poor (though there have beenimprovements, thanks to recent entries). It’s not difficult to see a situation in which American’s self-assured Latina lesbian identity is disregarded, and sure enough, it was revealed before the movie opened in theatres that “Multiverse of Madness” made only a passing reference to this in a 12-second mention to American’s two mothers. Would her own queerness be disregarded as a result? Yes, but that’s only a symptom of the bigger issue—America barely even has a character in this film. She is viewed as a more sophisticated version of the MacGuffin, the key to the multiverse that the protagonist and antagonist fight over. Wanda only uses her as a power source, which Doctor Strange has to keep out of reach. Apart from needing to be protected, America doesn’t have much going on, so he might as well be carrying an infinity stone or a bright luggage. This is not to suggest that Xochtl Gomez is not a welcome addition to the film; in fact, it is fun to see the dynamic girl bounce off Cumberbatch and Benedict Wong. However, her acting demands more from her than just clever remarks and frightened expressions. She has nowhere to go because she lacks a story arc.
Nobody puts Miss America in a corner
In “Multiverse of Madness,” a younger America is introduced than comic book fans may be familiar with. Gomez’s character has little control over her talents and only opens portals when she’s in a bad mood. America is very strong, despite her lack of control. She is capable of something that neither of the magic users in this story is even close to being able to perform, and if she could properly weaponize it, she would be a formidable opponent. Because she is in such uncertain circumstances and is unsure of her talents, she turns to all the different variations of Strange for protection. Something that resembles a character development for America is submerged in “Multiverse of Madness”; over the course of the movie, she transitions from being insecure to taking action and defending herself against Wanda. How does she get there, though? The explanation is frustrating: all it took for her to grow was one motivational talk.
The storyline of seeing America develop self-assurance in her abilities seems intriguing, but “Multiverse of Madness” is too crowded to accommodate her. Instead, there are sporadic glimpses of her potential throughout the film, such as when she becomes emotional and activates the portals that transport her away. Or perhaps when Wanda pursues her at the Illuminati base and she escapes from her glass prison. When it’s time to knock Wanda down a peg in the final battle, Strange gives her one of those “the power was in you all along” lectures, and all of a sudden, Wanda understands just how to counter the Scarlet Witch.
Any sense of interiority from America is painfully absent from this. A trip down memory lane does disclose her tragic past, but it makes no attempt to explain it. Stephen sees a memory of his past interactions with Christine as well as a glimpse into his own history. Whatever you may think about how insane it is to base his character’s arc on his ex-shallow, girlfriend’s almost nonexistent romance, at least his memory moment comes back around, leading him to acknowledge the grief of losing Christine. What use does her scene serve other than to set the stage for America maybe looking for her mothers in a later movie? Until the movie has to proceed from one point to another and deigns to allow her powers come into play, there is no context for anything she is going through or indication of how she is dealing. Otherwise, she spends the entire film shrieking, running, and gazing horrified into the camera as a doe-eyed MacGuffin. In the comics, this character is praised for being a fearless, strong heroine with a noble heart, but none of that comes across. Maybe they’re keeping the best for her standalone film, but there was more than enough quality to go around between Gomez’s acting prowess and the immense potential of America Chavez’s badassery.