Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness felt like something completely new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe while simultaneously coming off as a very familiar comic book movie. That's attributed to director Sam Raimi, the legendary and uniquely-gifted mastermind behind the first theatrical Spider-Man trilogy. Raimi's signature style was riddled all over Doctor Strange 2, from his trademark transitions to his chosen composer.
WARNING - The rest of this article contains spoilers from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
The horror-comedy fingerprints of the acclaimed director were especially apparent in the final two acts' culminating scenes. The possessed Earth-838 Wanda Maximoff's onslaught of the Illuminati, an Avengers-esque ensemble that included the likes of John Krasinski's Reed Richards and Patrick Stewart's Charles Xavier, included relentless kills that, while PG-13, implied plenty of Rated-R gore.
Beyond that, the film's final fight on Mount Wundagore between Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch and Benedict Cumberbatch's zombie Defender Strange emphasized the tone the Evil Dead director is famous for. While this might have played as Raimi wanting to intertwine his distinct DNA on the big battle, Doctor Strange 2's lead writer revealed it was quite the opposite.
Sam Raimi's Doctor Strange 2 Hesitancies
Sam Raimi came to Marvel Studios with the intention of being a team player.
Speaking to Polygon, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness lead writer Michael Waldron revealed that while he scribed this sequel "with Sam in mind," the director had "a real hesitancy" to embracing his signature style:
"I was totally writing with Sam in mind the entire time. I had watched all his movies. I tried to really get an ear for the dialogue in his movies, because I wanted it to feel like a Sam Raimi film. But Sam, to his credit, had no interest in coming in and just playing the hits. Sam did not come in and say, I need you to give me a zombie. And in fact, when I presented the idea of Dead Strange to him, there was a real hesitancy on his part, because he didn’t want it to seem like he was just saying, 'I want to do my Sam Raimi thing.'"
Once Waldron and Raimi saw eye-to-eye on the vision, the Oz the Great and Powerful director was ready to "go all in:"
"So when we could justify it in that way, then Sam was on board. It was like, 'All right, now let’s have some fun, let’s really go all in.'"
Doctor Strange 2's climactic battle pits Scarlet Witch against an undead Doctor Strange, as the MCU's Strange dreamwalks into a deceased Variant's body. Upon reviving this corpse, Zombie Strange is met by "the souls of the damned" who lecture him about possessing a dead body. This layer of policing actions dives deeper into the MCU's growing unwritten rules and regulations, which Waldron noted were thought of by the writing team's "own internal logic:"
"We truly tried to root [the dead in this movie] in our own internal logic. There’s the Darkhold, and if you use the Darkhold to possess your own corpse, there’s a separate layer of gatekeeping beyond all of this stuff that will come for you. And that’s who Stephen finally runs afoul of, so that was pretty fun to explore."
Those aforementioned unwritten rules and regulations expanded most significantly with the concept of dreamwalking: a powerful spell that allows the user to puppeteer the body of a Variant of themselves from another universe. Even though there was a lot of dreamwalking in Multiverse of Madness, Waldron emphasized that he only sees "two sorcerers strong enough" to utilize the spell moving forward:
"In my mind, Stephen Strange and Wanda are the only two sorcerers strong enough to even dreamwalk to begin with. It’s such an impossible spell to achieve, let alone maintain. I think Strange, in my mind, is probably the first guy to ever attempt to possess his own corpse. It’s the 'break glass in case of emergency' on the very back page of the Darkhold. And those spirits of the damned are like, 'Absolutely not, you cannot do this.'"
Raimi Embraces Marvel Zombies
While most of Doctor Strange 2's unique beats circle back to Raimi, Waldron's words stress that the entire Marvel Studios team was behind the director's style even before he officially joined the project. The Loki Season 1 head writer only joined Multiverse of Madness after former director Scott Derirckson departed. His vision for the sequel was stylized specifically for Raimi, who was in negotiations to helm the project at the time of Waldron's rewrites.
Once upon a time, Raimi was responsible for the most successful superhero franchise brought to the big screen. In 2022, he re-entered a world with an overflowing population.
Today, there are over a dozen active IPs dominating both the box office and Disney+ within the MCU alone. Raimi's emphasis on not simply "playing the hits" only exemplifies his adaptability, and Waldron's push to resurrect (both figuratively and literally) some of his famed tropes stresses Marvel Studios' flexibility.
The MCU has a formula, but Phase 4 has especially showcased the franchise's desire to embrace outside creators' styles. If Raimi is looking to run it back with Marvel Studios again, there's a potential project that is begging for his unique touch.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is in theaters now.