Tonight, Marvel Studios’ latest mammoth cinematic offering, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, begins flickering before audiences who are in for one wild ride. Almost exactly 20 years after the debut of his first Spider-Man movie in 2002, director Sam Raimi returns to the Marvel world by directing Benedict Cumberbatch in the trippy, much-anticipated sequel.
For producer Kevin Feige, reuniting with Raimi after all these years was a trip in and of itself. “It’s surreal,” said Feige. “Particularly surreal that it’s full-circle with Mr. Raimi. I was a young producer who just felt lucky to be in the same room with him, and now I’m an old producer that just feels lucky to be in the same room with him.”
“When we made the Spider-Man movies with Kevin he was also working on the X-Men movies and the Iron Man movies,” Raimi added. “Kevin and his boss Avi Arad were already developing the Marvel Cinematic Universe even back then. I was very fortunate to get that directing job. I loved Spider-Man and I’m glad it had a moment in helping be one of the first MCU movies.”
Raimi, who hasn’t made a feature film since 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful, enjoyed working with Cumberbatch as the title sorcerer as well as the rest of the Doctor Strange cast, which also includes Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlett Witch (this time taking the villain slot), Benedict Wong as Wong (the current Sorcerer Supreme), and newcomer Xochitl Gomez as the dimension-hopping America Chavez.
“These are great actors, and they know what it’s like to be a human being,” commented Raimi. “They’ve got a vast set of experiences that they’re not afraid to pull into their performances, and they also know their characters very well. They have played their characters for so many years now in so many important Marvel movies.
“It’s great to see that knowledge of their characters that they had in this film, because what they meet is the Multiverse. In the Multiverse, it’s basically a mirror, and they meet altered versions of themselves. These actors are so good, they just have to change the slightest aspect of their character’s personality to make an interesting conflict with the alter-self.”
“He’s quite a maverick,” said Cumberbatch of Strange, who certainly goes through some changes over the course of the movie, including meeting his alternate selves from other multiverses. “He’s quite an outsider. He doesn’t immediately strike you as a leader, despite his prominence in the MCU at this moment, and that’s what makes him really interesting and conflicted as a hero. As Sam alluded to, it’s the humanity that keeps people coming back for more…
“So, this one is about examining that and finding his flaws, his faults, his humanity, as well as his strengths and deepening our understanding of him… He’s far better at being a collaborator, at working with others, at realizing he can’t always be the one to hold the knife and control it all himself. He’s evolving.”
“In the previous films before ‘WandaVision,’ I took up a lane for storytelling that was more grounded in sincerity, love, loss, grief,” explained Olsen. “With ‘WandaVision’ I got to become anything and everything and really grow her into a woman. Leading her to accepting that she is this mythic woman and that is her destiny.
“I hope that in this film people see that continuation of her acceptance of who she is, the journey that she has taken to get to this moment. I feel like she has way more clarity now than ever in this film.”
“As a comic book fan and having collected all the Marvel comics,” stated Wong, “to be on board I’m just living this dream as the kind of the nerd that crossed the line and gets to play with these amazing actors and auteurs and writers and producers. It’s just a win-win for me.”
America Chavez debuted in the comics in 2011 as Marvel’s first Latin-American LGBTQ+ character. Feige explained why that both is and isn’t significant for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
“As we always say, these films represent the world as it is, or ‘the world outside your window,’ as they used to say in publishing,” Feige revealed. “That aspect of America’s character is from the comics, so we always want to adapt them as truthfully as we can. I think when people see the movie, much like in life it is not any one thing that defines any one character.
“As Xochi said, she’s a 14-year-old girl figuring out this very traumatic element of her life, which is not the LGBT issue. It is the fact that she keeps being tossed around the multiverse multiple, multiple times. Being truthful to that and showcasing that. That is not what the movie is about, but it is an important part of the character she becomes in the comics so we wanted to touch up on that.”
“One thing that was important to me was that this is a very adult movie,” explained Gomez. “There’s lots of adults in it. It’s very heavy, and I wanted to make sure that America still had that youthfulness and that fake it ’til you make it resilience, but when you’ve got some crazy stuff happening it’s a little hard. But I think one thing that really helps is that she is 14, which is younger than she was in any of the comics, so that really helps in writing a new introduction which I think Michael Waldron did beautifully.”
Michael Waldron first gained fame as a writer on Rick and Morty before leading the writer’s room on Marvel’s Disney+ series Loki. Currently writing a Star Wars movie for Feige, Waldron talked about the ever-shifting process of crafting the story for the Doctor Strange sequel.
“I had the great benefit of inheriting the bulk of these characters, and I think that was what certainly centered me creatively,” said Waldron. “You know, Stephen, Wanda, Wong, obviously America is a new character that Xochitl was originating, but in a lot of ways, I was just a steward of these characters on the page and so there was a lot of opportunity to collaborate with these tremendous actors who know them better than I could.
“As the script evolved, which it very much was all the time, you’re really refining it and it’s leaning on the people who have been doing it even longer than we have in this individual chapter. It’s a real team effort putting this story together.”
“The script was written oftentimes minutes before, and the actors are very creative,” Raimi added of the writing process. “They’re opinionated. They know their characters better than anybody, so they’ll recognize in playing of the scene this is untrue. This feels like a manipulation, or could it be more real, and we’d make changes in the moment trying to riff on that very good idea.
“When you’ve got great team members as a director, you really wanna pull the best of their ideas together and make something better than you could’ve made on your own, and that’s exactly what working on this movie was like for me. Great actors, great ideas, a script that was constantly changing, but it was a very lively process.”
Raimi added: “Not only that, but the other movies that we have storylines from, some were being made concurrently or had just finished. ‘WandaVision’ had just finished or ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ was also shooting, and our movie referenced those films.
“We had to have meetings with the director saying what does Dr. Strange know by the end of ‘No Way Home’? Does he even remember the multiverse? We have plenty of questions that Michael had to take into the script in the moment and take their changes and that change rippled through our movie.
“For a writer it’s like improv is for an actor. These movies are reacting, making up, changing things, and you have to be in the moment and take it in and go with it.”
In addition to our interview with the Doctor Strange cast and crew, you can watch the final trailer for the sequel below! The Marvel Studios movie starts playing in North American theaters tonight!