“Dr. Strange 2” has opened the door to a multiverse of possibilities, and after seeing the film, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen next. After two years of the pandemic keeping audiences out of theaters, it’s no surprise that Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is already seeing massive box office numbers as it’s being released worldwide. And while the build-up of this moment has been met with much anticipation, what we see on screen, lends even more excitement to the imagination.

After 20 years, Sam Raimi and Kevin Feige reunite for this ultimate Marvel mashup, giving fans what they’ve been waiting for. Having worked together on the original “Spider-Man,” where Raimi was at the helm and Feige, at the time, was a junior producer under Avi Arad, this dream collaboration adds both Feige’s magical Marvel touch and Raimi’s well-known knack for horror, creating something that ties the universe together in a way we’ve never seen before. 

Produced by Kevin Feige, directed by Sam Raimi, and penned by Michael Waldron (“Loki”), this dream team leads an all-star cast into a new world (or worlds) that take the MCU to another level. Raimi said during the press conference that one of the big changes he has seen in the past two decades has been in the tech department, noting how Zoom was a gamechanger when it came to getting this movie made. However, the one thing that didn’t change, he explained was the players. “The most important thing is having great actors,” Raimi said. “And them knowing that the most important thing they can do is within themselves. That’s how people connect to our superheroes.”

Raimi is right. When you’re dealing with a multiverse where characters face mirror images of themselves, the actors have to be up for the challenge to stay true to the canon while allowing for growth. We’ve seen this post “Avengers: Endgame” with movies such as “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which includes Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, and Disney+’s “Loki” and “WandaVision.” Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch, is one of the most evolved characters we see in this “Doctor Strange” sequel. 

Six years after the first “Doctor Strange” and numerous other Marvel appearances, Cumberbatch has successfully transformed his character from neurosurgeon to master of the mystic arts, opening up parallel universes ripe with opportunity. “He’s quite a maverick. He’s quite an outsider. He doesn’t immediately strike you as a leader…despite his prominence in the MCU [at this moment],” Cumberbatch said of his character. “And that’s what makes him really interesting.” As Stephen Strange now dives deeper into the world of sorcery and magic, Cumberbatch explains, “This [film] is about examining that and finding his flaws, his faults, his humanity, as well as his strengths. And renewing our understanding of him and deepening our understanding of him.” 

Olsen, as his counterpart, expands on what fans got a taste of in “WandaVision.” Her delicious evolution as the Scarlet Witch in the film gives us that deeper dive we’ve all been craving. When the battle between good and evil is a war waged within yourself, there’s no telling which side will be victorious. Before “WandaVision,” Olsen says she took up a lane for storytelling that was more grounded in sincerity, love, loss, and grief. With the show, Wanda became anything and everything, leading her to accept that she is this mythic woman. “That is her destiny,” Olsen said. “And I hope that in this film… people see that continuation of her acceptance of who she is.”  

As Cumberbatch and Olsen got to explore other parts of their characters, Xochitl Gomez steps in as newcomer America Chavez – a teenager who is the only known being who has the power to open doors to the multiverse. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” barely scratches the surface of potential here. As suggested in the comics (and hinted in the movie), this is just the beginning of this hero’s journey. Again, knowing the power America holds, the possibilities of what can happen in the multiverse are infinite.

While Xochitl credits Olsen as the ultimate teacher on set, the truth is, on-screen, they are all very obviously learning from each other – and themselves, for that matter. Benedict Wong, who reprises his role as the now Sorcerer Supreme, is a great source of humor, strength, and insight. What was lovingly thrown around as the WCU (the Wong Cinematic Universe) during the press conference, had the British actor talking about how grateful he is to be a part of it all; meeting Stan Lee, being a comic book fan, collecting all of the Marvel Comics, getting to work with this set of actors, writers, and producers. Wong says the whole experience has just been a “win-win” for him. 

On top of Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor [Mordo], Rachel McAdams [Dr. Christine Palmer], and Michael Stuhlbarg [Dr. Nicodemus West] all return for the sequel. Raimi’s “Evil Dead” superstar, Bruce Campbell, makes a perfectly-scripted cameo as well. 

We also get a pretty cool look at some familiar Marvel characters who make up the Illuminati – a powerful group of superheroes who form an allegiance to keep Earth safe. Ejiofor is Baron Karl Mordo, who in this parallel universe (known as the 838) isn’t quite Strange’s nemesis, but still holds an obvious grudge. Captain Carter, played by Hayley Atwell [“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Agent Carter,”] dons her weapon of power when the time comes. Lashana Lynch is Maria Rambeau, aka Captain Marvel. Maria is a former Air Force pilot, best friend of Carol Danvers on Earth, and mother of Monica Rambeau [played by Teyonah Parris in “WandaVision”], nicely tying pieces of the MCU together. Black Bolt [played by Anson Mount] revives his character from ABC’s short-lived Marvel’s “Inhumans.” John Krasinski also delights on screen as he makes his debut as Reed Richards, aka Mister Fantastic. Could this mean we’ll see more of him in Marvel’s upcoming “Fantastic Four” film? And then, as we previewed in the trailer, we saw the return of Professor X, played by none other than Patrick Stewart, confirming that X-Men do indeed exist in the MCU.

Clea Strange, played by Charlize Theron, was also introduced, as was Doctor Strange’s third eye, which fans are theorizing could actually be the Eye of Agamotto. With Earth-616 Doctor Strange holding strong (and apparently still jumping through the multiverse), anything, or anyone, is possible to materialize in the future. Just how much can be re-written is, well, left up to the writers. 

“In a lot of ways, I was just a steward of these characters on the page,” Waldron pointed out during the press conference. “There was a lot of opportunity to collaborate with these tremendous actors who know [their characters] better than I could…as the script evolved, which it very much was all the time, you’re really refining it and… it’s leaning on the people who have been doing it even longer than we have in this individual chapter.”

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” takes audiences on a remarkable ride that sends shock waves to the imagination. It’s unpredictable and exciting, dropping gratifying little Easter eggs throughout the fast-moving two-hour-and-six-minute journey. New MCU doors have been opened, and as all good Marvel movies do, it leaves us wanting more. We get an extensive look into what drives the characters and playfully get to explore more of the Marvel mythology that we all know and love.

Marvel’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is playing in theaters now.

Published with Hollywood First Look