Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits Sam Raimi’s overdue return to the big screen with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Sam Raimi‘s last feature film was 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful, and his last horror movie was four years prior to that. The announcement that he was stepping into the director’s chair on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness after Scott Derrickson’s departure came as great news for fans of the man behind The Evil Dead… but would it be more Oz or more Drag Me to Hell? It’s a Marvel movie so the answer is obvious, but that didn’t stop Raimi from slipping more than a few horror nods into the good doctor’s fight against evil.
The film is new to home video after a nearly billion dollar haul in theaters worldwide, and its arrival to disc includes numerous extras including our favorite supplement of all — a commentary track. So yeah, of course we gave it a listen. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness!
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
Commentators: Sam Raimi (director), Richie Palmer (producer), Michael Waldron (writer)
1. The commentary was recorded on April 12th, 2022, which was three weeks before the film opened in theaters.
2. They like to make small changes to the Marvel logo for each new movie, and this time around it involved additional images of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen).
3. They wanted to open the film feeling like the end of a different Doctor Strange movie. This ponytailed Strange — from Universe 617 — was originally a far better one than the one we’re familiar with, but rewrites gave him the fatal flaw of wanting to trade America Chavez’s (Xochitl Gomez) life for victory.
4. Waldron had full access to the scripts for WandaVision while writing this film, but for Spider-Man: No Way Home he found “there was a lot of secrecy.” Both play major roles leading into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
5. Raimi shouts out Michael Stuhlbarg who “I loved in the Coen Brothers classic, A Serious Man.” Raimi, of course, has long ties with the Coens dating back to 1984’s Blood Simple.
6. Waldron had a cameo as the best man at Christine’s (Rachel McAdams) wedding, but he was cut. “Now you know why they call my editor Bob Murawski ‘The Butcher,'” adds Raimi. He actually makes the cut a short while later at 12:29 on the balcony.
7. The action that explodes on the streets of New York was filmed on an elaborate soundstage in England because Raimi and others couldn’t go to the actual NYC due to the pandemic. Marvel paid for the construction of nearly four city blocks.
8. The big, one-eyed monster is Gargantos, “not to be confused with Shuma-Gorath.” Its eye is actually modeled on a retina scan of Olsen’s as foreshadowing for the reveal that Wanda is the real villain.
9. Marvel uber boss Kevin Feige wanted the monster’s demise to be gory while still landing them a PG-13, and he was fully onboard with an eyeball-popping homage to Raimi’s Evil Dead movies.
10. Palmer says the America Chavez character is one they’ve wanted to introduce into the Marvel Cinematic Universe for over a decade.
11. We first meet Wanda in Universe 838, and the home is based on her home in WandaVision.
12. Strange and Wanda have a conversation about the apple trees she’s pruning, but they’re actually cherry blossoms. “They were the only thing blooming at the time.” It’s further complicated in that all of the blossoms are fake and were added to the trees by hand.
13. Early drafts of the script had Wanda behaving like a hero until the third act where she gave into her sadness, but revisions moved that character shift to the dark side up far earlier. Raimi suggested they “bring that good stuff forward.”
14. Before Danny Elfman was even brought on officially as the film’s composer he gave them war drums to play on set “so that we can really amp the energy.”
15. Early drafts also expanded the relationship between Wong (Benedict Wong) and Sara (Sheila Atim) into something of a love story, but that was cut along the way.
16. The sorcerer who screws the pooch with his cowardice while under attack by Wanda was called “Weasel Sorcerer” in the script, “which was a source of confusion for some people because they thought it might just be a giant weasel in robes.”
17. They mention that the character of Doctor Strange is the anchor of the MCU’s Phase 4.
18. The snakes that Strange summons at 36:29 are straight out of the comics where they are called the Vipers of Valtorr.
19. There are numerous Easter Eggs as Strange and Chavez fly through the portal including The Living Tribunal, the Savage Land, and more.
20. Feige was “very on top of us making sure we made a proper presentation” to the audience regarding the look of the parallel universe.
21. The fork from Raimi’s Army of Darkness — the one used by little Ash to stab human Ash — is visible on Pizza Poppa’s (Bruce Campbell) cart.
22. Raimi’s son Lorne Raimi did some second unit and test footage work on the film.
23. Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) first appears is a shot filmed almost like a Western standoff, and Feige “thought it was a little corny.” He wanted Raimi to cut it, but the director stood his ground. Early drafts saw him introduced sooner in Universe 616 — the universe where the majority of the MCU films take place, and while hinted at in earlier films is only now confirmed — where he was in pursuit of Wanda/Scarlet Witch and ended with his beheading.
24. The Sands of Nisanti — used here to mute Strange’s powers temporarily — are straight out of the comics where they’re used by the character of Nic West (played here by Stuhlbarg).
25. The shot(s) at 54:08 showing Wanda rising from the floor in two different universes as the camera slowly turns was created on the day by Raimi. “Sam has a habit of making those things look easy, those crazy shots.”
26. “She’s not a villain,” says Raimi, “she’s suffering.” That’s obviously the vibe the film is going for, but hoo boy do I disagree — Wanda/Scarlet Witch is absolutely a villain in the film and causes numerous deaths. He adds that Olsen is a genius in her portrayal here as “she knows she’s not playing a bad girl, just someone who loves too deeply.”
27. Waldron gives a shout out to Brian Michael Bendis and Jonathan Hickman for their work on a first draft of the script and talks about his own challenge in finding the right balance of big swings. One of his biggest was to bring in the Illuminati — and then have Wanda kill them all off. He found some inspiration in a rewatch of James Cameron’s Aliens and seeing those space marines get massacred. An early version of the scene included the alternate Wasp shrinking and flying towards Wanda only to be clapped and squished between her hands.
28. The large relief of Wanda on the wall at 1:02:15 isn’t a visual effect and is instead a real part of the production design.
29. The hover-chair used by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) is modeled on the one in animated series. Feige suggested that Elfman work the animated show’s theme into his intro theme as well.
30. When Raimi pitched Wong on his character’s journey in the film he strongly implied that Wong would die going off the cliff. Wong eventually caught on to Raimi’s sense of humor.
31. Feige told them as much as he loved hearing Black Bolt’s (Anson Mount) name mentioned in early conversations, he wasn’t sure that Wanda was powerful enough to defeat him as all he needs to do is open his mouth. Raimi riffed instantly “what mouth?” This obviously made it into the script.
32. The large statue in the lobby of the Illuminati is patterned after Xena: Warrior Princess, a show that Raimi called home for a while, starring “the great Lucy Lawless.”
33. They ask casually if people think Captain Marvel (Lashana Lynch) is actually killed here. “Go see The Marvels to find out… that’s a joke, that’s a joke!”
34. Most of the Illuminati council scene was filmed separately with the different actors as they weren’t really together.
35. Waldron realized he had written himself into a corner having Strange stranded in another universe with no way to jump back to a different one, but he and Palmer hit upon the “Dead Strange” idea as an unexpected solution.
36. Raimi worries that audiences will be confused about the souls of the damned and why they’re attacking Dead Strange, but he wanted the character to have his own antagonists.
37. The finale involving the eventual defeat of the Scarlet Witch by jumping into the family home so her kids can see her monstrous behavior was all Raimi’s idea.
38. Olsen gave her all in every scene, and at one point Raimi told her he was afraid to ask for another take because of it. She replied that when it comes to acting she is a bottomless well of emotion and that she was ready to go again. So they did.
39. Strange acquires the third eye because he used the Darkhold and dream-walked in his own corpse.
40. They don’t mention Scott Derrickson or the “creative differences” that led to his departure.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“I’m not crazy about the ponytail.”
“You made our villain a human being.”
“It was quite unsettling to walk around the set eating your lunch.”
“Kevin wanted to make it a spooky film.”
“Mmm, look at those pizza balls.”
“And what studio did we shoot this on?”
“If it’s in the comics it’s automatically cool.”
“Kevin cast John because the fans had a dream of who the perfect Reed Richards would be.”
“He said ‘Get me a leg on a broom!'”
“Michael, you wrote so much of this movie during production. Post-production too.”
“His face is disgusting.”
My full thoughts on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness can be found in my review, and a rewatch with the commentary track confirms those feelings. The script reaches a bit too high with its character asks, but the film succeeds all the same thanks in large part to Raimi’s talents as a filmmaker. It’s an often attractive film with some entertaining visuals and beats torn straight out of the horror genre. The commentary track falls in line with that revealing three creatives with strong interests and a script that was essentially still being written during the production. It’s a good track for a good flick.
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