After one week in theaters, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has already made $500 million at the box office and shows no signs of slowing down. And now that so many people have seen it, screenwriter Michael Waldron is opening up about the latest film installment’s many, many cameos, how Aliens inspired a murderous stretch of the film, what the ending means for longtime character Wanda Maximoff (played by Elizabeth Olsen) and why this wasn’t the place to formally introduce mutants into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
[Warning: Spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness]
In the Doctor Strange sequel, Wanda, now known as the Scarlet Witch, reveals herself to be the movie’s big bad after Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) comes to her for help with protecting the young superhero, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the ability to travel through dimensions. It turns out, the Scarlet Witch is the one that’s been hunting her down in order to use her powers to find a way to be with her kids, Billy (Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (Jett Klyne), both of whom she created in WandaVision.
While Chavez and Strange attempt to outrun her by hopping from universe to universe, the Scarlet Witch goes on a murderous rampage, killing anyone who comes in her way. This even includes members of the Illuminati, an elite team of superheroes in an alternate universe that is comprised of Blackagar Boltagon (Anson Mount), Captain Marvel (Lashana Lynch), Captain Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Reed Richards (John Krasinski).
(As for that other cameo appearance by Charlize Theron during the end credits, Waldron spoke more about what her character means for Dr. Strange and the MCU.)
However, despite her best efforts, the Scarlet Witch is unable to steal Chavez’s powers. And after seeing her kids from an alternate universe recoil from her in fear, she collapses Mount Wundagore upon her and brings an end to the chaos at hand while potentially marking the end of Olsen’s time as a regular fixture in the MCU.
(In a separate conversation with Olsen, she was unsure about what this means moving forward, deferring to MCU boss Kevin Feige to determine her fate. “I don’t really know what’s next. I don't even know if he wants me to say, ‘I don’t know,’” she said.)
Although the film features an appearance by Professor X and Wanda’s two kids are canonically linked to the X-Men in the comics, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness did not follow the route of the famed House of M storyline, which would have not only closed the story started in WandaVision but possibly introduced mutants into the film and TV franchise.
ET: Starting off with the Illuminati scene, what inspired that whole sequence and how did you come up with the cameos that we ended up seeing in the film?
Michael Waldron: Because Sam Raimi was directing it, I knew there was an opportunity to go kind of full on fun like that. It felt like we were getting to a point in the movie where we needed to show Wanda’s true power and just how strong she really, really was and how scary she was.
In terms of inspiration, I was thinking a lot about Aliens, when James Cameron establishes the space marines and they're all so badass -- and then they just get massacred. I just loved that. And so, yeah, I was excited to do that. And then, it was kind of a moving target of who’s going to comprise this team. Who ultimately ended up [in the Illuminati] was probably beyond my wildest dreams, that we could actually get all of those people and do to them what we did.
Given what you did due to a lot of these characters in that scene, should fans read anything into these appearances? Are these setting the course for future MCU appearances? Or was this purely a fan service moment acknowledging casting hopes for the franchise?
I don’t think there’s anything that’s just a fan service moment. We worked really hard to treat Universe 838 as a real place. I mean, it's another universe they go to and now there’s going to be real consequences as to what happened in there.
So, you know, is that a universe that we’ll revisit and see other stories in one day? I don’t know, perhaps? I hope so. It was our hope that it felt like a real enough place that it could be. And so, I always felt that the worst way to approach the multiverse was to do it in a way where each different universe felt like a sketch and not a real, lived-in place where there weren’t real stakes for what happened.
I don’t know when we’ll see characters like that again, or where you see the fallout of all this. Maybe [we’ll see it] somewhere down the line.
In terms of the final lineup, I’m sure there were lots of scheduling issues while trying to coordinate everyone. Was there anybody that you guys had in mind that fell out? Were there any other names or was this a pretty set shortlist?
There were other names [including Tom Cruise] and there were versions of these characters who were in it originally and then they drop off because you think you won’t be able to get them. But by and large, when we settled on these characters, really only one of which we had to cast, there were all game and all the actors, even if they couldn’t be in the same place at once, we’re so stoked to come in and do this and work with us, make it work and build the characters together.
You know, I worked with all these actors, trying to make sure that we were doing justice to these versions of the characters, and it was very generous of them to do that, knowing the ultimate result was going to be a defeat at Wanda’s hands. We all had fun.
Speaking of Wanda, obviously the film ends in a way that the Scarlet Witch’s story and character seemingly has come to an end. When you wrote that final scene, what were you thinking about in terms of Wanda’s storyline and what this meant for the character potentially going beyond this film?
Well, I was thinking that was that moment that Wanda’s finally breaking free of the Darkhold. But also, because she is, if not a hero, she is a real adult taking responsibility. As she says, “I opened the Darkhold. I have to close it.” So, she takes responsibility for what she’s done and she makes a sacrifice to destroy the Darkhold not just in our universe, but in every universe because she’s seen what it did to her and what it’s done and we’ve seen what it’s done to other versions of Stephen. And in doing that, she’s really protecting the multiverse and protecting other Wanda Maximoffs across the multiverse.
So, I thought it was a powerful, final gesture for her in this movie. What that means for the future remains to be seen.
When it comes to something like that, does Kevin Feige have any notes, being like, “Let’s not make it too definitive?” Or when you are potentially killing off characters or wrapping up storylines, how much do you know where you can definitively take things?
It’s all a collaboration with Kevin and certainly when it came to a character as pivotal to the MCU as Wanda, we talked about that. We tried to be clear that this is the end of this chapter of her story. Is there an opening for more story to be told down the line? I don’t know. It’s a comic book series, so you never know, right?
With that said, I think a lot of people were going into this, especially after WandaVision, looking for a conclusion to the House of M saga that a lot of people applied to what was happening with Wanda. Did you guys discuss that at all? You know, the whole “no more mutants” moment and how or if that was going to actually be featured here and what that would mean for the X-Men in the MCU?
Yeah, we talked about House of M, and there’s plenty of examples of Wanda doing bad things throughout the comics in an effort to get her kids back. But ultimately this story didn’t need mutants to be powerful, I guess was our feeling. And, you know, wherever that lies on the timeline for the MCU, it didn’t feel like this was the right place to introduce it -- because then it suddenly would have just been about mutants. And this is really a story about Wanda and her grief and her descent into darkness in this movie.