Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a 2022 American superhero film based on Marvel Comics featuring the character Doctor Strange. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it is the sequel to Doctor Strange (2016) and the 28th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film was directed by Sam Raimi, written by Michael Waldron, and stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange, alongside Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Rachel McAdams. In the film, Strange protects America Chavez (Gomez), a teenager capable of traveling the multiverse, from Wanda Maximoff (Olsen).
Doctor Strange director and co-writer Scott Derrickson had plans for a sequel by October 2016. He signed to return as director in December 2018, when Cumberbatch was confirmed to return. The film’s title was announced in July 2019 along with Olsen’s involvement, while Jade Halley Bartlett was hired to write the film that October. Derrickson stepped down as director in January 2020, citing creative differences. Waldron and Raimi joined the following month and started over, adding elements of the horror genre that Raimi had worked with previously and making Maximoff the villain of the film, continuing her story from the series WandaVision (2021). Filming began in November 2020 in London but was put on hold in January 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Production resumed by March 2021 and concluded in mid-April in Somerset. Shooting also occurred in Surrey and Los Angeles.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness premiered at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on May 2, 2022, and was released in the United States on May 6, as part of Phase Four of the MCU. The film received praise for Raimi’s direction, the visuals, and Olsen’s performance, while criticism was mostly directed towards the writing. The film has grossed $955 million worldwide, making it the third-highest-grossing film of 2022.
Doctor Strange (2016) co-writer C. Robert Cargill stated in April 2016 that Marvel Studios felt some initial ideas for the film from him and director Scott Derrickson highlighted too much of the “weird stuff” associated with the comic book character Doctor Strange to feature in an origin story, but told the duo to hold onto them for potential future films. Derrickson revealed in October that he had plans for a sequel, expressing his love for the character and the visual possibilities that come with him. Derrickson said the first film was “the tip of an iceberg. There’s so much progress that can be made.” He wanted to follow the example of The Dark Knight (2008) and introduce a villain in the sequel that would allow them to “go deep [and have] a more visceral experience”. Star Benedict Cumberbatch had signed on for at least one more Doctor Strange film. Derrickson expressed interest in featuring the villain Nightmare, and further exploring the characters Jonathan Pangborn and Hamir after their small roles in the first film. He explained that he had been “kept in the loop” on how the Avengers films were using Strange due to his close relationships with Joe Russo the co-director of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019) and Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige. Doctor Strange co-writer Jon Spaihts expressed interest in seeing the character Clea appear in a sequel. In April 2017, Derrickson was reported to be returning for a sequel, beginning work after fulfilling his commitments to the television series Locke & Key.
By December 2018, Derrickson had quietly finalized a deal to direct the sequel, with Cumberbatch, Benedict Wong, and Rachel McAdams reprising their respective roles of Dr. Stephen Strange, Wong, and Christine Palmer. Marvel was beginning to search for a writer, with The Hollywood Reporter stating that the script would be written throughout 2019 for a planned filming start in early 2020 and a potential release in May 2021. Feige and Derrickson officially announced the sequel at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2019, revealing the title to be Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and confirming a release date of May 7, 2021. Derrickson wanted the sequel to be the first scary Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film and explore more of the gothic and horror elements from the comic books than the first installment did, with co-producer Richie Palmer explaining that the film would use the multiverse to explore “each definition of the word madness” and the idea that “the scariest monsters are the ones that dwell within us”. Feige revealed that the Disney+ series WandaVision (2021) would directly set up the film, with Elizabeth Olsen reprising her role of Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch from the series. Additionally, the concept of the multiverse was introduced to the MCU in the first season of Loki (2021), and explored further in the film Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), which is set before Multiverse of Madness and sees Cumberbatch reprising his role as Strange. After Loki‘s first-season finale was released, Tom Hiddleston was reported to be reprising his role as Loki in Multiverse of Madness, but ultimately did not appear.
Jade Halley Bartlett, an “up-and-coming screenwriter”, was hired to write the sequel’s screenplay in October 2019. In December, Feige described the multiverse as “the next step in the evolution of the MCU”, and said this film would “crack it wide open” in a way that would have repercussions for the Disney+ series and the next films in Marvel Studios’ Phase Four slate. Later in the month, he clarified that the sequel would not be a horror film, as some reports had described it following the Comic-Con announcement, but it would be a “big MCU film with scary sequences”. Feige compared these sequences to the films Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Gremlins (1984), and Poltergeist (1982), and said Derrickson was good at being “legitimately scary” due to his background making horror films. Feige also revealed that the film would introduce several surprising new characters to the MCU, including one that Marvel Studios had been looking for a way to use in an MCU film for some time; this was later revealed to be America Chavez, who was included because her powers are related to the multiverse. Chavez’s co-creator Joe Casey was not paid for the character’s appearance in the film after he rejected a compensation offer from Marvel Comics that he described as a “pittance”.
- Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange:
A neurosurgeon who became a Master of the Mystic Arts following a career-ending car accident. Writer Michael Waldron said Strange was “at the height of his powers” in the film, and compared the character to Indiana Jones as a hero who can “take a punch”, but with the intellect of chef Anthony Bourdain. He saw Strange as a “great adventure hero you just like to watch kick ass”. Director Sam Raimi explained that Strange begins the film believing that he should be making all decisions, and must learn to “let go a little bit” and trust in others. Cumberbatch also portrays three alternate versions of the character: the Earth-617 version who dies at the beginning of the film and wears a costume inspired by Matt Fraction’s 2011 Defenders comic book series; the former Sorcerer Supreme of Earth-838 who founded the Illuminati; and a version who has been corrupted by the Darkhold.
- Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch:
A former Avenger gone rogue who can harness chaos magic, engage in telepathy and telekinesis, and alter reality. The film continues Maximoff’s “ownership of what makes her unique and the accountability of her life experience” that began in the series WandaVision (2021), including using an accent that is more true to her Sokovian heritage after some of the previous MCU films had seen her use a more Americanized accent. Olsen wanted to ensure Maximoff’s role in the film honored the events of the series, requesting some adjustments to the film to ensure that it evolved the character rather than repeating moments from WandaVision. She felt the film’s portrayal showed a new confidence for the character that was “really empowering”, and said it was “okay to play characters that people get frustrated with sometimes”. Olsen also portrays the character’s Earth-838 counterpart.
- Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo:
The Sorcerer Supreme of Earth-838 and a member of the Illuminati. He is an alternate version from the Mordo seen in the first film, which set him up as a future antagonist. That version does not appear in the sequel because he did not fit into the story, with Waldron explaining that they were focused on the Earth-838 version of the character and felt it was more exciting to leave the Earth-616 version for “another day”. An early version of the script included the Earth-616 version of Mordo in an opening sequence in which he would have been killed by Maximoff.
- Benedict Wong as Wong:
The Sorcerer Supreme of Earth-616 and Strange’s mentor and friend. The actor was happy to hear that his character would be the Sorcerer Supreme and stand “toe-to-toe with Doctor Strange” serving as the voice of reason for Strange who ultimately faces consequences for ignoring Wong’s advice. The actor had more action scenes in this film and prepared by training with former rugby league player Shannon Hegarty.
- Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez:
A teenager who has the ability to travel between dimensions by punching open doorways. She originates from another universe known as the Utopian Parallel. Gomez wanted to remain faithful to the source material despite playing a younger version of the character than is seen in the comics, and said her journey in the film begins with the character having been alone for a long time and “running away from her uniqueness”. Chavez has to embrace her abilities and learn to trust others by the end of the film. Marvel Studios had been looking for the right film to introduce the character in for a long time before settling on Multiverse of Madness.
- Michael Stuhlbarg as Nicodemus West:
A surgeon and former colleague of Strange. Stuhlbarg was planned to portray his Earth-838 counterpart as well, but was only able to film one scene (as the original version) due to scheduling conflicts. The Earth-838 version would have worked for the Illuminati, with the protagonists finding his head after he was killed by Maximoff off-screen, similar to the death of Samuel L. Jackson’s Ray Arnold in Jurassic Park (1993).
- Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer:
An emergency surgeon who was a colleague and lover of Strange. The film explores Strange’s decision at the end of Doctor Strange (2016) to protect the New York Sanctum and not be with Palmer, despite still having feelings for her and possibly regretting that decision, with Palmer getting married to someone else in this film. McAdams also portrays the character’s Earth-838 counterpart, who is an employee of the Baxter Foundation and the former lover of that reality’s Strange. McAdams described this version of the character as a “Multiversal expert” who allowed her to have more action scenes compared to the first film. She has “a lot more baggage” than the original version of the character due to the Earth-838 version of Strange being corrupted, but her storyline with the Earth-616 Strange helps resolve his love story with his own version of Palmer.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness held its world premiere at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on May 2, 2022. The film was released in the United Kingdom on May 5, 2022, and in the United States on May 6, in 4DX, RealD 3D, IMAX, Dolby Cinema, ScreenX, and Superscreen. It was originally set for release on May 7, 2021, but was pushed back to November 5, 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, before it was further shifted to March 25, 2022, after Sony rescheduled Spider-Man: No Way Home to November 2021. In October 2021, it was shifted once more to its current May 2022 date. The film is part of Phase Four of the MCU.
In April 2022, The Hollywood Reporter confirmed that the film would not be released in Saudi Arabia due to the inclusion of America Chavez, a gay character, given the region’s censorship of LGBTQ references. Nawaf Alsabhan, Saudi Arabia’s general supervisor of cinema classification, said the film had not been banned from the country but revealed that Disney was “not willing” to grant their request of cutting “barely 12 seconds” of a scene in which Chavez refers to her “two moms”. The film had been set to release in several Persian Gulf countries on May 5, before advanced tickets were removed from cinema websites in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar. Tickets were still available in the United Arab Emirates, which The Hollywood Reporter stated was an indication that the film could still be released there. IMAX Corporation also confirmed that the film would not be released in Egypt. Cumberbatch was disappointed by the countries’ decisions to not release the film, saying: “We’ve come to know from those repressive regimes that their lack of tolerance is exclusionary to people who deserve to be not only included, but celebrated for who they are and made to feel part of a society and a culture and not punished for their sexuality. It feels truly out of step with everything that we’ve experienced as a species, let alone where we’re at globally more as a culture, but frankly, it’s just even more reason why this isn’t tokenism to include an LGBTQ+ community member”. Deadline Hollywood reported in late April that the film was unlikely to be released in China after a newspaper box for The Epoch Times, a newspaper that opposes the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), was noticed in the film’s trailer. It had been submitted for review to Chinese officials by that time. In mid-May, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said the situation was complicated but noted that the film was already commercially successful without a release in China.
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