Why The Weird Girl Has To Be Wrong In "Age Of Ultron"
"That little witch is messin' with your mind." WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Avengers: Age of Ultron.
When the Avengers' girl Friday, Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), explains the superhero twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) in Avengers: Age of Ultron, she says, "He's fast, and she's weird."
Pietro has an easily understood power — he is really, really fast — but Wanda is an unquantifiable element. Her "weirdness" is her telekinesis and her ability to manipulate thoughts and read minds. And that makes her unfathomably threatening. As the super-villainous Ultron (James Spader) tells Wanda, he and Pietro can hurt the Avengers, "but you will tear them apart from the inside."
Like Ultron, Wanda and her brother see through the Avengers: The two of them hate the team because a weapon made by Tony Stark's (Robert Downey Jr.) company killed their parents and almost killed them, too. Ultron tells the band of heroes in the beginning of the movie, "You're all killers." (He's right.) "You want to protect the world, but you don't want it to change." (Also true!)
After Ultron's true plans are revealed in Age of Ultron, now in theaters — he wants to destroy not just the Avengers, but the whole world — Wanda is forced to choose the lesser of two evils, and she becomes an Avenger.
Wanda, at least at first, saw another option. She joined HYDRA with her brother to take down Stark and his war profiteer policing enterprise; she sees the Avengers' hypocrisy. In her first scene, she openly defies orders and fights the Avengers because she understands what a disruptive force she and her brother are. She is better than the people she works for, and she doesn't automatically respect authority. Wanda is a creative thinker, who, against her brother's judgment, strategically allows Stark to take a mystical weapon, because she sees Stark's fears will cause him to gravely misuse it. When Ultron asks her to join him, she accepts. Here is a robot, she thinks, who can help me end the Avengers, and who recognizes my worth. She sees alternatives everywhere.
But when she betrays Ultron and joins the Avengers, she says, "What choice do we have?"
And that's the problem: There are so few choices in the superhero world, and there is a special lack of choices for Wanda, who is, in some ways, even more threatening than Ultron himself, and thus needs to be neutralized. Unlike Ultron, her "fuck the police" attitude isn't grounded in homicidal mania. This witch just really hates state-sanctioned violence. And if that kind of attitude is allowed to stand, what would become of the moral order of the Marvel movie universe?!
Her situation is reminiscent of the beginning of European prosecution of "witches," coinciding with the government deciding "population" was its business. The crimes of witches were often crimes of reproduction — infanticide, abortion, birth control. Women were assigned an imaginary power — witchcraft! — in order to stoke fear, crush them, and deprive them of real power. In a similar way, Olsen's Scarlet Witch is given power — mind-reader and mind-manipulator — only to have it rhetorically diminished ("That little witch is messin' with your mind") and subsumed under the dominant team.
For all the recent talk of "strong female characters," it is disappointing that the only female character in this movie with an original thought in her head turns out to be just like everybody else.