In the MCU, things just got out of hand. While Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness showed Benedict Cumberbatch's sorcerer exploring other universes and Wanda Maximoff unleashing her rage on its heroes, the film did something more. Doctor Strange 2 not only brought Marvel Studios' animated characters to live-action but also introduced audiences to the franchise's future heavy-hitters.
Warning - The rest of this article contains spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Ever since Disney acquired the Fox-Verse, fans have been eagerly waiting for their MCU debut. While Marvel fans knew a Fantastic Four film was on the way, Doctor Strange 2's Super Bowl trailer confirmed fans would be seeing X-Men's Patrick Stewart as Professor X in the film and as part of the Illuminati.
While fans had their theories about which Professor X was Patrick Stewart playing and who else - besides a Multiversal Mordo - would be joining them, fans were also concerned about whether they and their counterparts would survive the grieving Scarlet Witch.
Even though it was expected, Stewart's Xavier, along with Lashana Lynch's Maria Rambeau as Captain Marvel, Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter as possibly What If...?'s Captain Carter, Anson Mount's Blackagar Boltagon or Black Bolt, and John Krasinski as the Fantastic 4's Reed Richards, did not.
As fans come to terms with Wanda's slaughter and what these Illuminati cameos mean for the greater MCU, Multiverse of Madness' screenwriter is now offering an explanation for why the film dispatched these monumental cameos.
Doctor Strange 2's Michael Waldron Explains Illuminati Deaths
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Doctor Strange 2 writer Michael Waldron admitted that introducing Earth-838's Illuminati to then kill them off in horrific fashion "was not in my outline" but was added to "find the madness in the multiverse:"
"Yeah, that’s a blast. That’s probably my favorite sequence in the movie. The idea for that was not in my outline; I was writing the first draft and I guess I felt like, as I put it, the movie needed to get drunk. It felt like we’re at the point where I need to find the madness in the multiverse here. I had no idea: Would I be able to use these characters? Would this even be possible? But I knew with Sam [Raimi] that if we did it this way, it would be amazing. And so I wrote it in."
Much like Peter Parker in Avengers: Infinity War, Waldron's inspiration for the scene stemmed from James Cameron's Aliens because "Aliens goes to great lengths to tell you how badass the space Marines are - and then they just get slaughtered," and that new level of fear and respect that the audience has for Xenomorphs is "what I wanted to accomplish with Wanda:"
"I was watching Aliens a lot as I was writing. Because just tonally this movie is a thriller and a [feature-length] chase. I just love how Aliens goes to great lengths to tell you how badass the space Marines are — and then they just get slaughtered. Then you are really scared of the Xenomorphs for the rest of that movie, and that’s what I wanted to accomplish with Wanda. At the end of that Illuminati sequence. I hope you were truly terrified of the Scarlet Witch. It’s been awesome being in the theater hearing the cheers, then the gasps and the groans. I mean, you know, people were feeling something at the movies. That’s good!"
As to who was chosen to be part of the Illuminati, Waldron acknowledged that it was both "a moving target of who's available and who's right" and an attempt to be "true to what kind of characters were represented in the Illuminati in the comics:"
"The final lineup in that group is beyond my wildest dreams of who we could get — and then dispatch. I never dreamed we’d be able to do that. But the lineup is close to, I think, who was originally in my first draft, which was: 'Okay, I know it can’t actually be this.' And then it ended up being close to that. It was just a moving target of who’s available and who’s right. It became, 'All right, if you’re putting together an Illuminati, who would actually need to be in it?' You’d have people with certain power sets. And we tried to be true to what kind of characters were represented in the Illuminati in the comics."
Marvel Studios Loves Aliens & Retrospect Viewings
First of all, who knew Aliens would be such an important film for the MCU? Multiverse of Madness is now the second time (that fans know of) that Marvel screenwriters have used the iconic James Cameron sequel as inspiration for scenes; and for this film, Aliens helped writer Michael Waldron solve a long-standing problem with Wanda Maximoff's on-screen portrayals.
For years, Marvel audiences have been told that Wanda Maximoff is one of the most powerful Avengers, but there have only been a few instances where that was apparent. Her confrontations with the Illuminati finally showed her full abilities and - just like Waldron wanted - left audiences terrified of her.
However, there is a difference between the Xenomorphs wiping out the Marines in Aliens and Wanda wiping out the Illuminati.
While the Marines were always supporting characters and somewhat expendable, audiences got to know their characters, making their deaths expected but meaningful.
In Doctor Strange 2, the Illuminati members are major players in the comics and in other media; but no one in the audience knows just who they are as people or personalities within the MCU. While their reveal is impactful, the film spends little time with them as individuals before killing them off.
The audience knows they should feel something apart from horror at their deaths, but their limited screentime leaves Wanda's quick and brutal massacre of Earth-838's heroes somewhat empty and short-changed.
As to who was chosen to be part of the Illuminati, the fact Marvel Studios was able to pay tribute to the comics while also surprising the audience was a huge win. However, it's hard to deny that there wasn't a larger, strategic plan at play.
After all, X-Men 97 is coming to Disney+ and Season 1 of What If...? positioned Captain Carter for a continuing story. Also, considering the impact of Maria Rambeau on WandaVision and her daughter Monica Rambeau's role in The Marvels, it's likely her character will be revisited in some form or fashion.
Meanwhile, even though Black Bolt is a bit of a wild card, Reed Richards is not. The MCU's Fantastic Four is set to begin filming in 2023; and for years, John Krasinski has been a fan favorite to play Richards. As to whether his role in this film was a wink at the fan casting - or something more - remains to be seen; but with Fantastic Four on the studio's live-action docket, Waldron's use of the character is one that may have a different meaning in the coming months.
In fact, how this particular scene hits with fans is likely to change in retrospect as the MCU rolls out new projects involving these characters. Therefore, fan reception to Doctor Strange 2 is one that will ironically change with time.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is playing in theaters worldwide.