Why ‘Doctor Strange 2’ introducing America Chavez matters

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The expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse continues with “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

Both a sequel to 2016’s “Doctor Strange” and the direct follow-up to last year’s hit series “WandaVision,” “Multiverse of Madness” is packed with plenty of familiar faces tending to business as usual — or as usual as it can be for sorcerers and witches. But the film also marks the much-anticipated introduction of fan favorite Marvel comics character America Chavez into the MCU.

Brought to life on screen by actor Xochitl Gomez, who — according to estimates by co-producer Mitch Bell — beat out “thousands” of actors who auditioned to nab the role, America is a young superpowered teen who stumbles into Doctor Strange’s world.

“She’s done such a fantastic job on her debut [as] one of the youngest actresses to join the MCU,” actor Benedict Wong said at the film’s Hollywood premiere this week. Gomez started working on the film at age 14. “For a film of such huge magnitude, there’s a lot of pressure there on a kid like that. [It’s] parallel, in a way, with her character that crashes into a new world and [Gomez] crashing into the MCU.”

Both Bell and the film’s casting director, Sarah Finn, also heaped on the praise for Gomez and her “feisty, beautiful spirit” that allowed her to hold her own in the movie.

Beyond the pressure that comes with a film of the magnitude of an MCU tentpole, Gomez also shoulders the additional weight of representation and expectation of portraying a character who, at least in the comics, is a proudly queer Latina. (A weight, it must be said, that should not be hers alone.)

“Xochitl knew that she had a big weight on her shoulders — that she actually had to deliver this character because there was expectations,” Bell said. “But I think that she didn’t let that squash her performance. … She knew that she needed to bring this great representation, and she did.”

America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), Wong (Benedict Wong) and Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

(Marvel Studios)

Who is America Chavez?

America Chavez, sometimes referred to as Miss America or Ms. America, is a teenage superhero originally introduced in the pages of 2011’s “Vengeance” No. 1 (by Joe Casey and Nick Dragotta).

Among the powers she’s been shown to possess are superhuman strength and speed, flight, a degree of invulnerability and the ability to kick and punch star-shaped holes between realities.

Her comic book backstory has been reimagined over the years, but America is generally depicted as a sharp-witted, confident Latina lesbian whose mothers died in order to save her life. While America originally believed she was born and raised by her two moms in a reality outside of normal space and time, more recent storylines have revealed that her mothers were both human scientists.

How is the MCU’s America Chavez different?

The biggest difference between comic book America and the version of her introduced in “Multiverse of Madness” are their ages, according to the film’s writer Michael Waldron.

“She’s younger. That’s the big thing,” said Waldron, explaining the film offers a new version of America’s origin story. She’s “a younger version of that fierce, brash character that everybody knows from the comics. But it absolutely is that character, and hopefully we’re seeing how she grows into that character that everybody loves.”

Although certain adults might still consider her a “kid,” America in the comics is a young adult and (sometimes) university student. This age difference was also on Gomez’s mind, who said showing America’s “teen spirit” was something that was really important for her.

“In this big movie with adults, [that’s] just heavy — you can kind of get lost, and I want to show that teen youthfulness, you know?” said Gomez. “It’s important to show that she’s still a kid.”

A girl running down the street

Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

(Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios)

Do the comics hint at America’s future?

Perhaps. In the comics, America has been a member of various superhero teams, including the Young Avengers, the Ultimates and A-Force. While none of these teams have been officially introduced into the MCU, different members of these teams have been.

As a Young Avenger, America saved the world alongside her best friend, Kate Bishop (“Hawkeye”), a younger Loki (“Loki”) and Wanda’s twins Billy and Tommy (“WandaVision”). The members of the Ultimates, a superhero team that fought more cosmic level threats, also included Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Spectrum (a.k.a. Monica Rambeau). And though her stint was very brief, America was also affiliated with A-Force, the all-women Avengers squad of an alternate dimension that included members such as Captain Marvel and She-Hulk.

That means there’s plenty of fodder for speculation until America’s official MCU future is announced.

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Originally published at www.latimes.com

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