Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is finally in theaters and making its impact felt on the Marvel Cinematic Universe after what was a troubling development. Finding its way into theaters a year after its original release date, the sequel delivered a Multiversal epic that was something completely different from what Marvel Studios initially had in mind.
Those changes started with a directorial change as Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson left the position for Doctor Strange 2, with Marvel eventually bringing in Spider-Man trilogy headman Sam Raimi for the job. Then came the global pandemic, pushing the film's release date and forcing Marvel to change some of its plot points and its place amongst its Phase 4 counterparts in the timeline.
One of the biggest changes came in the villain category, as Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch wound up taking a darker path than anyone expected by becoming Doctor Strange 2's main antagonist. Following the film's theatrical release, its head writer reflected on a character that was originally set to play that big bad role - Nightmare.
Nightmare's Original Role in Doctor Strange 2
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness head writer Michael Waldron spoke with Den of Geek about the movie initially including the classic Marvel Comics character Nightmare as its main villain.
Even with Elizabeth Olsen's Wanda Maximoff confirmed for the movie during San Diego Comic-Con 2019, Waldron admitted that he reworked the script with director Sam Raimi once Waldron came on board. At that time, the Multiverse had come more into play for the MCU's future, leading Waldron to search for a more "mutiversal adversary" for Strange to face rather than someone like Nightmare:
“There was different stuff. I think it’s been reported that once upon a time, there was some talk of Nightmare and stuff like that. But when I came on board, it was a Multiverse story. And so it was always about trying to figure out who that multiversal adversary was going to be.”
Waldron initially joined the movie in February 2020, taking over the story from former director Scott Derrickson and writer Jade Bartlett.
At first, Waldron was going to try to work out his version as a part of the script that Derrickson and Bartlett had already worked on. Then, due to the pandemic shutting everything down, he and Raimi took the chance to "start over and re-examine what they wanted" to use in the final version of the story:
“When I originally came on in February of 2020, Sam and I inherited the story that had been worked on by Scott and Jade Bartlett, the original writer on the project. It had a lot of really cool ideas in it, and we were initially going to just try to figure out our version of that story in time to start shooting the movie in May. Then COVID happened a month later, and the movie was pushed, which afforded us an opportunity to kind of start over and re-examine what we wanted the movie to be.”
Additionally, the movie was forced into major changes when it switched places in the MCU's release order with Spider-Man: No Way Home, which meant that Doctor Strange 2 wouldn't be Strange's first encounter with the Multiverse.
“It meant that Stephen would have had some real experience with the Multiverse by now, that he had been on a Multiversal adventure already. This isn’t his first rodeo, so to speak. So that kind of recontextualizes the way you approach all of this. He understands the dangers of it more.”
With No Way Home coming out before Multiverse of Madness, Strange got more of an understanding of how to handle younger characters, especially as he found himself alongside Xochitl Gomez's America Chavez for the first time. Chavez was initially meant to debut alongside Strange in No Way Home, but he wound up working with Peter Parker, Ned Leeds, and MJ Watson in that story instead:
“He had just been on an adventure with kids before this, and I think that might be the biggest thing affecting how he would interface with America. She wasn’t a totally unknown quantity to him when it came to relating to a teenager.”
Major Changes to Doctor Strange 2 Pre-Release
As was the case with the rest of Phase 4, Doctor Strange 2 had to deal with plenty of pandemic-induced delays, leading to the story having to be reworked a couple of different times ahead of its release. This all ended with Nightmare being removed from the film entirely in favor of the alien octopus Gargantos, which was only a cover until fans found out about Wanda's place in that lead villain slot.
Nightmare is known as one of Marvel's most dangerous demons, as he has the ability to bring somebody's astral form out of their physical body and torture them in various ways. While this certainly could have been a terrifying adversary, especially with the final cut of the movie already using the concept of dreamwalking, Marvel decided against that idea fairly early in the process due to more Multiversal plot points being available.
This all came on top of having to rework the film already thanks to its relationship with Spider-Man: No Way Home, which was originally going to be the second MCU film to use the Multiverse instead of the first. Due to this change, Ned Leeds wound up learning about his own sorcery skills to bring Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire's Spider-Men into the third act, taking over that role from the Multiverse-familiar America Chavez.
Even with all of these adjustments and the six-week reshoots that reportedly added plenty of new material to the film, fans are still coming out in droves to see what Marvel delivered.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now playing in theaters worldwide.