DUBAI: In 2002, Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios and lead producer and creative voice of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was a young junior producer working under the man who would make superhero movies what they are today — Sam Raimi, the visionary director of “Spider-Man.”
Twenty years later, the two have united once again, crafting what is shaping up to be the most wildly imaginative film in the studios history, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”
“For me, this is particularly surreal,” Feige tells Arab News. “I’ve come full circle with Mr. Raimi. I was a young producer who just felt lucky to be in the same room with him. Now, I'm an old producer that just feels lucky to be in the same room with him.”
Raimi is equally effusive about Feige. “He’s always been smart, funny, and a guy who cares about the integrity of characters, but I had no idea who Kevin would become,” he says. “He was just a kid that worked for the boss of Marvel back then on the ‘Spider-Man’ movies. I’m glad I wasn’t mean to him.”
There’s a reason that Feige knew Raimi was the man for this particular job. The second “Doctor Strange” film was, in many ways, the most difficult directorial assignment the studio had to date, a film of huge scale that would blaze through different universes and push the MCU, thematically and stylistically, to its very limits, at times even delving into pure horror.
Raimi has seen his “Spider-Man” trilogy grow in public esteem since he stepped away from it over a decade ago. He has long been known as one of the most creative directors in history, crafting the “Evil Dead” series with an unmistakable panache all his own. For “Doctor Strange 2,” that side of the director was encouraged more than even Raimi himself expected.
“Marvel accepted all the insane ideas. It was so surprising how far they wanted to go to really do something different and entertain the audience in a different way. It was refreshing,” says Raimi.
“I pitched armadillos with lasers mounted on their backs when I wrote ‘Loki,’ and that was rejected. Honestly, I think that would have been too tame for this movie,” adds Michael Waldron, the film’s writer.
While Raimi has worked across almost every genre over the last four decades, his ethos has always remained a focus first and foremost on character—something ‘Doctor Strange 2’ also desperately needed. After all, while Benedict Cumberbatch debuted with the character in his own film in 2016, his six subsequent appearances have done little to further the sorcerer’s personal character arc, making him long overdue for a dive into his own struggles rather than having him just save the day once again.
“That had to be the spine of the movie: what choices we made,” says Waldron. “Ultimately, we were being driven by Stephen Strange’s progression as a character. When you’re doing a big multiverse movie, and it feels like you've got every possible sci- fi resource available to you, it’s easy to maybe get lost and get derailed. To prevent that, our North Star was always Stephen, and how we can explore what he’s going through and advance him to an interesting place. This was built around him, not the other way around.”
Cumberbatch, himself coming off an Oscar-nominated performance in Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” was intent on giving Strange the same level of depth and dedication, pushing both Waldron and Raimi on set to improve nearly every scene, Raimi reveals to Arab News.
“Benedict started by torturing Michael and the script. He said, ‘The script has got to be better. I demand more options. I want it richer, more interesting, and more fulfilling for the character.’ He put pressure on us to deliver good quality scenes that he's going to act in. Michael rose to the occasion, improving them and making them better and more interesting,” says Raimi.
For Cumberbatch, that dedication was because he knew the potential was there, waiting to be unlocked.
“He had become omnipotent, and we hadn’t yet understood what the cost of that was. This was about examining that, finding his flaws, his faults, his humanity, as well as his strengths and renewing our understanding of him,” says Cumberbatch.
“Ultimately, the multiverse itself becomes a way of holding up a mirror to Doctor Strange. It’s an incredible narrative structure that confronts him, through his other selves, to examine his own potential. He learns he can’t always be the one holding the knife — the one in control. From here, he must evolve.”