There’s no putting the lid back on Marvel’s multiverse at this point. After Spider-Man: No Way Home unlocked the door to alternate worlds in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness kicked it wide open with a dimension-hopping adventure across myriad realities within the MCU.
Given the studio’s plans for Dr. Strange, it makes sense that Marvel hired someone with plenty of multiversal experience to pen the script for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: Emmy winner Michael Waldron. The Loki and Rick and Morty writer worked closely with director Sam Raimi to bring the filmmaker’s vision for a wild, horror-fueled adventure to the screen, tapping into a wide range of characters and comics continuity along the way.
Waldron spoke to Pro Well Tech about his work on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madnessincluding the effects of a frequently shifting release calendar, the cameos everyone’s talking about, and that wild ending to the film.
Note: The following interview will discuss plot points from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Pro Well Tech: You’ve mentioned that you tried to write the script to Sam Raimi’s strengths. What did that entail?
Michael Waldron: Well, it entailed watching all of Sam’s movies, first of all. Most of them I had seen, especially Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2. [It also involved] thinking about what he does so well as a filmmaker and trying to get a feel for that kind of dialogue — it’s a little bit heightened, a little bit campy here and there. So I was just trying to put my spin on it. And after that, we were in the foxhole together the whole way through, figuring out what this thing was. It was just a dream collaboration.
Coming from TV, you’re used to having a little more control as a writer. But I try to embrace my role, whatever it is. In this one, I’m really here for the director, and for the actors. It was fun!
The pandemic created so much chaos in scheduling the release of this film, WandaVisionand Spider-Man: No Way Home. How did that affect development of the story?
Well, WandaVision we always knew the plan for. I had the scripts for WandaVision and knew what was happening. I had visited the set and watched early cuts of the series as they were coming in. So that one, we were really up to date on. But with No Way Homethere was a release date swap between us, so the big change there was that we were originally going to be the first movie to introduce the multiverse. And then suddenly it was like, “Oh shit, if No Way Home comes out first, that means Stephen Strange has already been on a multiversal adventure with a teenager.” And then, “Wait, he’s going on a multiversal adventure with a teenager in our movie, too!”
So we had to make sure we weren’t treading any of the same ground. That was easy, too, because I’m friends with [No Way Home writers] Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. We just compared notes and made sure we weren’t going to trip each other up.
Benedict Cumberbatch has said the film’s ending was still up in the air when filming began. How did you settle on this particular ending?
Everything’s always up in the air — even as each day starts. It’s still weird to me that the movie’s done, to be honest. But certainly, once we landed on “Dead Strange,” the idea of Strange possessing his own corpse, we knew that we had our showcase third act.
Yeah, that feels like it would have been a “Eureka!” moment…
It was. That was a moment for me when afterward, I went home and just… exhaled. It was like, “All right, we’ve got it.” And a cool thing about that was that I knew a lot of it was going to be practical, so our third act wouldn’t turn into the sort of big light show people often complain about in superhero movies. So that was great.
And then, with the third-eye moment, we wanted a kind of fake-out, horror ending. When we shot it, it was like, “Yeah, that’s it. That’s the only way we can end this thing.”
Films like this are always surrounded by so many rumors for so long. What’s that like on your side of things, to see all of this speculation about something you’re actively working on?
It’s crazy. And it’s humbling. I mean, when you work on stuff that this many people watch, you’re really signing up for that, and there’s going to be speculation and scrutiny and all of that. That’s just part of the challenge. I feel really fortunate, and I hope fans enjoy it. That’s the reason we do it.
The film’s villain was the subject of a lot of those rumors. Initially, it was reported to be Nightmare, then after Lokipeople assumed it would be Kang. What made Scarlet Witch the best choice over those other options?
I guess it’s because I love Wanda as a character, and I know how amazing of an actress [Elizabeth Olsen] is. I felt like we had no greater weapon at our disposal than her. If we could figure out a way to justify her doing villainous things, it would be really thrilling for the audience. And I felt like she had a really good, earned point of view to challenge Stephen about his hypocrisy. Stephen had given Thanos the Time Stone that he used to reverse her killing Vision, for example.
And you know what? It’s just like she says: He does morally compromised things and becomes the hero. She does it and she’s the enemy. It doesn’t seem fair.
And after all the grief and trauma she’s faced, some of that had to finally manifest as anger for her in this movie. Certainly, that’s all enhanced by the Darkhold, too. So it felt like we had a good point of view for how Wanda could turn into the villain, and once I realized that, there was never another choice. I knew Lizzie could really run away with that antagonist part, and I’m glad we did it.
You dealt with the multiverse already in the Loki series, so did Doctor Strange feel at all like familiar territory?
Weirdly, no. Maybe yes, because of the multiverse and the sci-fi of it all, but tonally, the movie feels so different to me from Loki. Loki was an intense, dramatic crime thriller that was fairly dialog-heavy. This is a Sam Raimi movie. We were going for some of that campy feeling in a way that was really fun, and that was a blast for me. It felt like I was getting to do something totally different tonally, and that’s good, because you can’t just do the same thing all the time.
We meet Marvel’s Illuminati in this film. Given the actors and characters involved in that scene, I suspect it might have been complicated to bring it all together. How did the roster of that group change over time?
Well, like everything, it was constantly evolving. I can’t believe who we ultimately got. It’s insane.
It was definitely a surprise — even for someone who follows all of the rumors surrounding the film pretty closely!
Yeah, we were really fortunate. It was a constantly moving target, but it was driven creatively by who would make the most sense to put in the Illuminati. If you were Stephen Strange of [universe] 838 and constructing a group like the Illuminati, who would you involve? Who would you invite?
It wasn’t about who we want to sell toys for — although the toys are nice. I’ll buy the toys.
America Chavez is introduced in the film. When you’re in charge of debuting a new character in the MCU, does that come with any added pressure?
Totally. America is a beloved character in the comics. She’s an LGBTQ, Latina hero that a lot of folks are going to look at and see themselves in. That’s exciting, and it was important to me to get the character right and to give Sam and Xochitl, our actor, the right foundation for the character.
This is a different version of America than what comics fans are used to because she’s younger and isn’t the fully realized version of America yet. She’s in the midst of her origin story. But I think it’s going to be amazing to watch Xochitl grow into this part and see where America goes in the MCU moving forward. I was really lucky to be a part of bringing that character to life.
We always hear about stuff from the script that doesn’t make the final cut, but what about stuff that did? Is there a scene you’re particularly proud of in the film?
I’m really proud of that last scene with Stephen Strange and Wong, where Stephen asks Wong if he’s happy. They have, to me, a very adult conversation between two superheroes, and Strange admits that you think saving the world will make you happy, but it doesn’t. That felt like an interesting thing to explore in a gigantic superhero movie. Benedict [Cumberbatch] and Benny Wong are so amazing in that scene. I’m so glad that we got that in there.
We got a pair of credits scenes in this film, but I know they’re sometimes added after the fact. Were you involved with them?
Yeah, I wrote the first one [with Doctor Strange and Clea, played by Charlize Theron]. But the second one was just the Pizza Papa himself [Bruce Campbell] riffing with Sam. We had that idea on the day it was filmed, and it was amazing watching Sam and Bruce. They were like two kids again, just being like, “Oh, yeah, we should do this…” and “Yeah, let’s try that!” And then there it is. It’s the last frame of the movie.
A lot of people would love to be a fly on the wall during that moment…
Totally. It was really cool.
Marvel’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in theaters now.