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'Doctor Strange 2' writer on putting the Illuminati and Charlize Theron in the MCU

Writer Michael Waldron's multiversal antics in Loki were just the tip of the MCU iceberg.

By Josh Weiss
(L-R): Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, Benedict Wong as Wong, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange

Last summer, Michael Waldron quite literally broke the Marvel Multiverse in the Loki series on Disney+.

The writer's experience with the TVA, and its practice of pruning alternate realities, made him the perfect candidate to pen Doctor Strange's second solo adventure: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Following the exit of Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson in the spring of 2020, Waldron (who also served as writer and producer on Adult Swim's Rick and Morty) was brought in to craft a brand-new screenplay with input from the project's replacement director, Sam Raimi, whose campy horror sensibilities would prove to be the perfect fit for the Master of the Mystic Arts. The duo settled on a story involving America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) — a young woman with the power to move across the multiverse at will — who turns to the MCU's Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for protection against a corrupted Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).

Despite its title, Multiverse of Madness feels rather restrained when it comes to exploring the endless possibilities of the many-worlds interpretation. That may come as a disappointment for members of the audience who expected a staggering amount of Marvel cameos (Ryan Reynolds' Deadpool! Tom Cruise's Superior Iron Man! Nicolas Cage's Ghost Rider!), but Mr. Waldron is here to assure us that there is a method *ahem* to the madness.

SYFY WIRE caught up with the screenwriter this week for a spoiler-heavy chat on the new movie and everything — from the Illuminati to that mid-credits cameo — was discussed. Head below to read the interview! Darkhold and Book of Vishanti sold separately...

***WARNING! The following contains major plot spoilers for Multiverse of Madness! Proceed at your own risk!***

How did you want to further explore the whole multiverse concept in this movie after busting it wide open with Loki?

I guess I wanted to invest in the reality of a multiverse. Meaning, I wanted to go to one other universe and feel it as a real place. In Loki, we went to a bunch of other timelines; in Rick and Morty, we go to other universes. I feel like we’ve seen multiversal storytelling where you’re seeing lots of other universes [and] it can start to feel a little bit like sketch comedy. I felt like for the stakes of this movie, and for the stakes of the MCU moving forward, what would actually be helpful is to establish another universe as a real place where it feels to the audience like, "Oh, wow — here’s another MCU that’s been going on and there’s real lives here and, geez, it would suck if this place was destroyed or if these people were hurt." And so, that’s what we tried to invest in, was the reality of Universe 838 and try and explore madness through that lens.

What was the process of working with Elizabeth Olsen to organically continue Scarlet Witch's story from WandaVision?

Trying to make sure that we were giving her the justification and the ammunition she needed, as a performer, to play this dramatic shift in the character to a big villain and to doing some terrible things. It’s a testament to Lizzie as an actor that she pulls it off so gracefully; that she trusted us to take such a big swing and she was great. We had a blast working together.

How much of the horror was already in your script, and how much of it did Sam Raimi bring to the party?

Sam encouraged me to write spooky scenes and to try and give him opportunities for thrills and scares. I tried to become a real student of Sam’s films as I was working on the screenplay. But also, I know from working in the Marvel system that you just want to give these guys enough to make it their own. Because we have such amazing production designers, pre-viz teams, storyboard artists. Sam brought in his storyboard team from the Spider-Man movies, who brought so much life to these sequences. So I tried to give them just enough; just the basic story and character beats and then they really made it awesome.

At what point did the Illuminati enter the picture?

My first draft. I guess over the summer of 2020 — when we [Waldron and Raimi] were given the freedom to start over and figure out what our version of the movie was gonna be, and it was gonna be the story of Wanda pursuing America through the multiverse. I had an outline that I’d written that did not have the Illuminati in it. I went off and I was writing the draft, and I was unsatisfied with the draft as I was writing it. And so, I went off the rails a little bit, as I felt like the movie needed to get drunk. I wrote that whole Illuminati sequence; it was a surprise to everybody when they received my first draft, but fortunately, they were all receptive. And, now, here we are.

Was it always going to be the lineup we see in the finished film or did you have different ideas?

Different ideas, different versions. I think the original lineup was close to this final one, only because that felt like the most, "Ok, well, here’s the craziest version. There’s no way we’ll actually get to do this." But then, lo and behold, by the end, we actually were [doing it].

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff

You’ve got that brutal sequence in which Wanda tears through the group like they're made of tissue paper. Can you talk about upending audience expectations by delivering these great cameos before pulling the rug out from under them?

I just wanted to show how awesome Wanda was, how scary she was. I think at that point in the movie, Lizzie and I talked about Wanda really is… she’s angry by that point. She’s made good, viable points — she is being reasonable, relative to her power set and what she wants, yet Stephen continues to stand in her way and these people continue to get in her way and tell her she can’t have what she wants. She’s pushed to the brink and it felt like the time to really frighten the audience with how powerful Wanda truly is and what better way to do that than to show her cutting down Earth-838’s mightiest heroes?

Is there a chance we'll see those characters again — either on Earth-838 or another part of the multiverse?

It’s possible. Anything’s possible now. My hope was, by the end of this, is that it felt like, "Ok, these other universes are real places." That, in theory, you could see an entire movie set in another universe. That’s cool [and] feels true to the comics, and it feels like that’s how you continue to build stakes in an ever-expanding multiversal landscape in the MCU.

Were there any characters or universes that didn’t make it into the final movie?

There were, but it’s tough. You never know where they might show up, so… it’s tough to really speak on anybody specifically.

How did the mid-credits scene with Charlize Theron's Clea come about? Was that in the script, or did the idea come from Marvel?

We’d always talked about introducing Clea in this movie somewhere. It was just a matter of where and I felt that Clea — while she is maybe the great love of Doctor Strange in the comics, that there was real unfinished business between him and Christine Palmer. So we had to close the book on the two of them and when that was done, then it felt like, "Ok, maybe now we can tease the future team-up with Strange and Clea."

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now playing in theaters everywhere.

Other upcoming horror films include Firestarter in theaters and streaming on Peacock on May 13, The Black Phone in theaters on June 24 and Jordan Peele's NOPE in theaters July 22.