Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opened up the floodgates to alternate universes and the new characters and stories they would deliver. The massive sequel also had the distinction of tying back in some form to two of the franchise's Disney+ shows from 2021, most prominently with WandaVision, but also the MCU's first animated project, What If...?.
This series introduced a number of alternate worlds where the MCU's biggest names starred in stories with key differences from their counterparts in the 616 universe. The show even started off with Hayley Atwell's Captain Carter, who made an appearance as a part of the Illuminati in Doctor Strange 2, although that version of her didn't make it past the fight with the Scarlet Witch.
While What If...? and Doctor Strange 2 don't have any specific ties to one another story-wise, fans got a taste of some of the stress that Doctor Strange goes through in his solo sequel from his time in the animated sphere. But according to a recent report, the team behind Doctor Strange 2 actually had one specific What If...? episode to watch as part of preparation for the movie.
Doctor Strange 2 Crew Dives Into What If...?
Speaking with Deadline, What if...? Season 1 director Bryan Andrews looked back at his experience working with Doctor Strange in one of the show's biggest episodes.
When asked why the Doctor Strange episode was chosen for Emmy consideration, Andrews made it clear that the team wanted to go darker with that entry. He praised writer AC Bradley for being able to dive deep into that story "based on some personal experiences that she went through" with regard to loss, giving Strange a difficult time dealing with losing Christine Palmer:
"It’s a very strong episode, but we also felt that it just kind of ended darker. We knew even before we had a full story that we wanted to do something dark with Doctor Strange. We wanted to do something where he messes up and fails at the end. AC was able to find an in that really worked based on some personal experiences that she went through dealing with loss – to have him be unable to deal with that loss mixed in with Doctor Strange’s built in hubris."
What made this one so great to Andrews was its "emotional core" and the ending, which had The Watcher interacting with one of the characters in the story for the first time:
"There’s a lot of other episodes that were really great, but this one overall had such an emotional core. It just made the whole thing really strong and cohesive, but I think the strongest thing is the ending. He blew it and it marks a pivotal point in the whole season where The Watcher actually is looking at the guy and the guy could actually see The Watcher and they have a slight dialogue. That’s the first tease that a connection like that could be made."
Andrews also revealed that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige had the Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness team watch What If...? Episode 4, “What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?,” in preparation for production, warning that group of how good that animated material was:
"Another reason is that Benedict Cumberbatch did an amazing job playing evil Doctor Strange, and that was long before Multiverse of Madness was really getting started. They had kernels of ideas, so Kevin had them watch our stuff and was like, 'You guys better watch out, cause this shit’s good.' And they came out of that meeting just going like, 'Oh my God, what are we gonna do for a movie?' [Laughs] I think they borrowed a lot from what we were trying to do in that episode, which is crazy."
Andrews offered praise to Marvel producer Brad Winderbaum for the idea to do What If...? as an anthology series, which worked well considering it didn't "cost...a trillion dollars" and could bring something big and different with each episode:
"It came from Brad Winderbaum, who was like, 'Hey, maybe doing What If…? would be awesome?' Those comics were pretty cool and we could probably do it in animation, so it doesn’t cost, you know, a trillion dollars like it would if they did it all live action, with each episode being different and on that same scale."
Animation and Live-Action MCU Working in Concert
Doctor Strange's solo story from What If...? Epsiode 4 is largely regarded as the best in Season 1, showing a world in which the Sorcerer Supreme had to lose the love of his life in Christine Palmer. As it turns out, the darker tone and feel from that episode was one of the biggest things that Kevin Feige wanted the Doctor Strange 2 team to see as the magician moved into his solo sequel.
While Christine didn't die in Doctor Strange 2, a big part of Doctor Strange's character development was having to deal with losing her after she got married and started her own life. He then had to face the emotions of that loss in a battle with Sinister Strange while also remembering the loss of his sister, forcing the titular hero to move forward in ways he'd never had to before.
Although that episode caused some initial confusion when the marketing for Doctor Strange 2 started, it helped influence multiple live-action versions of the character as he interacted with himself across the Multiverse. It remains to be seen how much effect What If...? has on other MCU outings, but if it's anything like what happened in this Multiversal sequel, there will hopefully be some exciting developments ahead.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now streaming on Disney+. Season 2 of What If...? is set to hit the streaming service in early 2023.