Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness featured

From Sorcerer Supreme to Supernatural Monster Slayer: An Inside Look at ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’

May 2, 2022Ben MK

Of all the superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of the most enigmatic is without a doubt Doctor Strange. Whereas characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Spider-Man find themselves empowered by their high-tech armor, serums that grant super strength, or the bite of a radioactive spider, Strange draws his strength from the fantastical realm of mysticism and magic, making him one of the rare protagonists in the franchise who owe their powers to the supernatural rather than to the wonders of modern science and technology. It's a quality that has allowed Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's comic book creation to play pivotal roles in such MCU blockbusters as Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: No Way Home. And now, in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the Master of the Mystic Arts is back to face his biggest challenge yet — preventing the destruction of the multiverse.

Touted as Marvel Studios' first genuine, feature-length foray into horror, the action-packed and cameo-filled followup to 2016's Doctor Strange also marks director Sam Raimi's long-overdue return to the comic book genre, nearly two decades after his groundbreaking Spider-Man trilogy took moviegoers by surprise and smashed box office records around the world. Yet, in many ways, there's arguably no filmmaker more fit to take the reins of the good doctor's newest adventure, especially given that Raimi is the man behind one of the most influential horror trilogies of all time — The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness.

"When [Marvel Studios president] Kevin [Feige] announced that this movie would be [Marvel's] first entry into the world of horror, I was thrilled that he called me to talk about the possibility of directing the picture," says Raimi. "I was able to take those horror films that I made in my youth and what I had learned from them — building suspense sequences, titillating the audience — and apply them to the spooky sequences in this film. I [also] love Spider-Man. And I'm glad I had a [hand] in helping [bring] one of the first MCU movies [to the screen]."

"The first [Doctor Strange] was very much about Stephen Strange entering this world of magic, learning about it, and beginning to master it," adds screenwriter Michael Waldron. "And then we had Stephen in the Avenger films and then in Spider-Man: No Way Home. This is our first time in a movie that is his. And this is our chance to focus on that magic and check in on what it looks like however many years on. We're seeing him at the height of his powers, you're encountering Wong, who has become Sorcerer Supreme, and then you have Wanda [Maximoff], who is actualized in a whole new way from the end of WandaVision. So there's lots of magic."

"He's quite a maverick, he's quite an outsider," states Cumberbatch about Strange's current status and ranking in the MCU. "He doesn't immediately strike you as a leader, despite his prominence at this moment. And that's what makes him really interesting and conflicted as a hero. So this one was about examining that and finding his flaws, and renewing and deepening our understanding of him. [We're] holding up a mirror to him through this incredible narrative structure we have of a multiverse of other selves, in the sense that he's meeting other versions who are essentially him, but they've made different choices in different circumstances with different outcomes. So it's a great fuel for a form of very odd, spectacular self-therapy, really. And it's just a lot of fun as well to shift up the look, to shift the attitude or the mannerisms or the abilities, and to show same same but different."

"When I first took the job six years ago, we moved away from the old source material," remarks Benedict Wong, who takes pride in the fact that his portrayal of Wong has evolved beyond the Asian stereotypes of the past. "We developed and crafted this no-nonsense, midfield general librarian, who has continued through four or five of the movies and is now the no-nonsense Sorcerer Supreme. And I love where we're going with this and the character progression of that. As a comic book fan, I'm living this dream as the nerd that crossed the line and gets to play with these amazing actors, auteurs, writers and producers. It's just a win-win for me."

"We're exploring something that I haven't been able to explore yet with [my] character," comments Elizabeth Olsen about where we find Wanda in Multiverse of Madness. "With WandaVision, I got to become anything and everything, and really grow [Wanda] into this mythic woman. And I hope that in this film, people see that continuation of her acceptance of who she is, and the journey that she has taken to get to this moment. She has way more clarity now, she has learned so much and has a sense of confidence that we haven't seen of her yet. She's constantly straddling this line, and we get to further that, which is something that I'm happy about."

Of course, Doctor Strange, Wong and Wanda aren't the only characters audiences will be meeting in this sequel. They're also joined by relative newcomer Xochitl Gomez, who plays America Chavez, an LGBTQ+ teenager with the ability to travel the multiverse. "One thing that was important to me was that I wanted to make sure that America still had that youthfulness and fake-it-till-you-make-it resilience," recalls Gomez. "I did look [toward] Lizzie [for inspiration], especially while she was acting and getting ready to do [her] scenes. She's just such a powerful woman, and especially me as a young girl, I would constantly look up to her. And I realized that [whatever] she was doing, I should probably do it too. So I did do that, and it helped me. I just learnt so much from her."

Ultimately, though, the success of the entire project came down to teamwork and being able to evolve the script as production progressed. "The actors are very creative," notes Raimi. "They know their characters better than anybody. And when you’ve got great team members, as a director, you really want to pull the best of their ideas together and make something better than what you could've made on your own. Not only that, but the other movies that we have storylines from were being made concurrently or had just finished. And our movie referenced those films. We had plenty of [changes] to take into the script, and [those] changes rippled through our movie. It was probably for a writer what improv is to an actor. You have to be in the moment and go with it."

As for who would win in a no-holds-barred showdown between Doctor Strange and Wanda, it seems like everyone involved is in agreement. "I think we all know who would win, punch for punch," jokes Olsen, casually referencing the season finale of WandaVision. "She's pretty all-powerful, let's be honest," concurs Cumberbatch.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in theaters May 6th.

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