Marvel Studios is retconning Scarlet Witch's powers ahead of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Introduced in 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron, Scarlet Witch has established herself as one of the most powerful superheroes in the MCU. In Avengers: Infinity War, she was able to hold Thanos at bay while destroying an Infinity Stone; in Avengers: Endgame, she came close to defeating Thanos single-handed, a feat that not even Thor accomplished.
As powerful as Scarlet Witch may be, though, her abilities are surprisingly, relatively undefined. That may be intentional on Marvel's part, because there's some evidence the studio is planning to retcon them. In an interview with ComicBook back in 2016, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige compared Scarlet Witch's powers to Doctor Strange's:
"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."
It seems clear that, as far back as 2016, Feige saw connections between Scarlet Witch's abilities and those displayed by the Masters of the Mystic Arts. That perhaps explains why Scarlet Witch is set to appear in Doctor Strange 2, because she's been moved into his arena.
Scarlet Witch Was Introduced As A "Miracle" In Avengers: Age of Ultron
Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch was introduced as a "miracle" in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Along with her brother, Pietro aka Quicksilver, she was one of only two people to have survived Hydra's experiments with the Mind Stone. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver's powers were explained in throwaway dialogue by Maria Hill when she briefed the Avengers. "He's got increased metabolism and improved thermal homeostasis. Her thing is neural electric interfacing, telekinesis, mental manipulation," she told Steve Rogers. "He's fast and she's weird." This origin story, and indeed this powerset, is markedly different to the comics. There, Wanda Maximoff is variously described as a mutant, sorceress, or sometimes even both. She's strongly associated with something called "Chaos Magic," which affects probability and the structure of reality itself.
It's important to understand that Marvel was initially hesitant to introduce magic into the MCU. Their shared cinematic universe is built on a bedrock of superhero pseudo-science, and as a result the studio feared audiences would find it difficult to place magic side-by-side with characters like Iron Man and Captain America. That even affected the first Thor film, where the God of Thunder grounded his own origin by telling Jane Faster that he came from a place where science and sorcery are "one and the same thing." It was the classic formula of Arthur C. Clarke, that any sufficiently advanced science would be indistinguishable from magic.
This wariness, then, affected how Marvel initially treated Scarlet Witch. She basically became the MCU's Jean Grey analogue, and Avengers: Age of Ultron devoted equal time to both her telepathic and telekinetic skills. Wanda was able to torment the Avengers with nightmarish visions, and was responsible for setting Tony Stark on the path that led to the creation of Ultron. At the end of the film, when she and Quicksilver had switched sides, Scarlet Witch used her telekinesis to devastating effect against Ultron's android army. The film clearly established a link between the intensity of Wanda's emotions and the strength of her powers. When Quicksilver died, she let out a keen of rage and grief that was accompanied by a destructive burst of telekinetic force.
How Scarlet Witch Changed In Phase 3
Marvel's Phase 3 slate of films continued to develop Scarlet Witch, and potentially prepared the way for Kevin Feige's retcon. The focus has almost always been upon Wanda's telekinesis, and she's been portrayed as one of the most powerful Avengers. Thanos even had to sacrifice his own troops in order to escape her telekinetic grasp.
For all this is the case, though, the MCU has been careful to establish that Scarlet Witch's powers are not infinite in scope. In fact, Wanda's limitations were key in Captain America: Civil War, where she failed to contain the blast from Crossbones' bomb long enough and, thus, inadvertently caused a tragedy. But the limits of Scarlet Witch's powers appear to be more to do with her own focus and emotional state rather than anything else. The more she trains, the better she gets at learning to multitask, which explains why Wanda was able to keep Thanos at bay while destroying an Infinity Stone in Avengers: Infinity War. And her power is never greater than when she's emotional; when she took on Thanos again in Avengers: Endgame, Scarlet Witch was grieving Vision's death, which for her had happened just minutes ago.
Meanwhile, the MCU has avoided clarifying the relationship between Scarlet Witch's abilities and the Mind Stone. The Marvel Studios Visual Dictionary contained a carefully-worded statement: "Whether it altered her or merely unlocked something latent inside Wanda, the Infinity Stone on Loki's scepter bestowed incredible powers of the mind." The implication is that Scarlet Witch always had the potential for tremendous power, and that the Mind Stone simply awoke it within her. The movies themselves have established that Wanda's abilities have "a similar... signature" to the Infinity Stone, but have never explained what that really means. The potential is clearly there for the source of Wanda's powers to be retconned in some way.
Is Doctor Strange 2 Feige's Promised Retcon?
Marvel may have been nervous about making Scarlet Witch a sorceress back in 2015, but the modern MCU is a lot more relaxed about the supernatural. The Doctor Strange movie was a blockbuster hit, grossing $677.7 million worldwide and proving that audiences were ready for magic to enter the MCU. Audiences were thrilled when Doctor Strange and Iron Man teamed up in Avengers: Infinity War, with science and sorcery coexisting with ease. Given this changed context, it would hardly be a surprise to see Marvel retcon Scarlet Witch as a sorceress all along. That would neatly explain why she's confirmed to appear in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Of course, if Scarlet Witch's powers are indeed magical in nature, then clearly there's a lot more to them than just telepathy and telekinesis. Furthermore, even raw and untrained she's operating on a scale unseen by the Masters of the Mystic Arts. For all Doctor Strange's power, he was never able to harm Thanos in the way Wanda did, and there's no indication he could have single-handedly destroy an Infinity Stone either. It's possible that Strange sensed Wanda's potential when he fought alongside her in the battle at Avengers Compound; alternatively, Wanda may demonstrate supernatural abilities in the WandaVision series, which is confirmed to tie in to Doctor Strange 2 somehow. Either way, the stage is set for Doctor Strange 2 to see Stephen Strange forced to work with a woman whose abilities could far exceed his own.
If Doctor Strange 2 is indeed Kevin Feige's promised retcon, then comic book readers will know Strange should be very careful. This change would move the MCU's Scarlet Witch a lot closer to the comics, and there Wanda is as unstable as she is powerful. Doctor Strange once feared Wanda's powers so much that he cast her into an enchanted sleep; even that didn't last. Worse still, there have already been hints of this instability within the MCU's Scarlet Witch, which has consistently stressed that Wanda is more powerful when her emotions are out of control. It's not inconceivable that the titular "madness"of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is actually the Scarlet Witch's.
- Black Widow (2020) release date: May 01, 2020
- Eternals (2020) release date: Nov 06, 2020
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) release date: Feb 12, 2021
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2021) release date: May 07, 2021
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2021) release date: Nov 05, 2021