How 'Doctor Strange 2' brings horror, a rookie hero and extra 'Madness' to Marvel's multiverse

Brian Truitt
USA TODAY

Sam Raimi doesn’t waste much time in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” before making his signature scary-movie mark on the expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Actually, it’s more of a stab and involves a gruesome bit with a ginormous eyeball.

“When we were dealing with this cyclops-like creature terrorizing the city, it really seemed like that eyeball had to go,” the director behind “The Evil Dead” franchise and “Drag Me to Hell” says with a chuckle. “So it was doomed” from the get-go. “I don't think it was about me so much. It was more about a fitting end to a particular monster.”

Review:Benedict Cumberbatch's freaky 'Doctor Strange 2' loses its way in Marvel multiverse

Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is surrounded by darkness and magic in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness."

While Marvel movies frequently frighten the box-office competition, Raimi’s new superhero sequel (in theaters Friday) gleefully goes to some creepy places as a nod to what the filmmaker calls the “spooky factor” of the spirits and demons the sorcerer has long fought in the comic books. (That aforementioned eyeball isn't even close to the goriest thing.) But there’s plenty of do-gooding, of course, with Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) on a quest to find different versions of himself through the multiverse to fight “one of his most powerful foes.”

“Madness” finds Strange “moving from a position of egotistical self-belief to selfless realization that he's stronger (with others) than he is working on his own,” Cumberbatch says. “He can't control everything.”

Here's what you need to know before delving into “Madness”:

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The 'Multiverse of Madness' is a bit of a nightmare for Doctor Strange

Like “Loki” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” the new film’s narrative leans into familiar Marvel types meeting alternate-reality versions of themselves. “The multiverse is a mirror that we can hold up to ourselves,” Raimi says. “Our original key characters can see if they had made a wrong choice, that's what they would've become. Or had they listened to that better side of themselves, had they really followed their dreams, what they aspired to, perhaps that's what they could have become.”

One interesting wrinkle “Madness” introduces: Dreams are actually a window into the multiverse of our other selves, a "really relatable" bit of sci-fi fantasy insight, Raimi adds. So next time you dream about being naked in a college class you’ve never attended, it's just a parallel you out there. “That's the real nightmare,” the director quips.

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Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and America Chavez  (Xochitl Gomez) star in an adventure that travels through parallel worlds in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness."

Doctor Strange gains a sassy new ally in teenage America Chavez

The new “Doctor Strange” opens with Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and her partner, a Strange from another universe, running from the dark force trying to steal her ability to travel the multiverse. Chavez winds up in the world of the sorcerer we know and love, but they clash initially. “She doesn't give him the respect that he thinks he deserves. He has to earn that respect. And so she wakes him up as only somebody that age and that alive could do,” Raimi says. Adds Cumberbatch: “Even in our regular universe, there's a kinship there.”

America and Strange get to know each other on their multiverse-spanning mission, and Gomez, 16, says their relationship is very similar to hers with Cumberbatch. “We’re kind of yin and yang. It just works.”

Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) is in control of her witchy skills more than ever in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness."

When you need magical help, you call the Scarlet Witch

To help protect America, Strange reaches out to Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), the magical Avenger who wields enormous power. The new movie picks up after the events of Disney+’s “WandaVision,” where she turned a New Jersey town into an idyllic sitcom-esque world after losing her beloved, the android Vision.

“She has this new understanding of this mythic woman that she was always destined to be and we find her in a place of clarity and confidence that we haven't seen yet," Olsen says. "She's always conflicted with her powers – how to use them, why to use them – and we now have her in a space where that's not really a part of her journey anymore.”

Messing with the Multiverse leads to a bunch of trouble for Wong (Benedict Wong) and his fellow heroes in Marvel's superhero sequel "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness."

Bow down: Wong is your new sorcerer supreme

Wong (Benedict Wong) started out in the original 2016 “Doctor Strange” as a hard-nosed magical librarian but has become a larger part of the MCU, fighting Thanos in “Avengers: Endgame,” welcoming Simu Liu’s new Asian hero to the fold in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and heading up his world-protecting magical order in “No Way Home.” (Strange was the sorcerer supreme but lost the ranking on a technicality when he was blipped out of existence for five years in “Avengers: Infinity War.”)

“He’s very world-weary at the moment. There's a jaded feel to him really when he is with Strange,” Wong says of his role. “It's kind of hammering a square peg in a round hole sometimes with their relationship (but) they do need each other.” Wong has also constantly tried to keep Strange from being reckless with magic and warn about the consequences of his actions but “he’s just not listened to anybody.” 

Chiwetel Ejiofor's Mordo returns and is still a stickler for magic being used properly in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness."

‘Doctor Strange, the Illuminati will see you now’

During his new epic adventure, Strange runs across his old frenemy Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) – who also isn't a big fan of the way Strange uses magic – and is hauled in front of the Illuminati, which in the Marvel comics is a secret collective of the world’s foremost superhero minds. 

Strange is “finally going to have to own up to some of the sins of his past, some of the sins of his personality. He'll have to pay the price,” Raimi says, adding that he’s “a very lonely character. He doesn't really have a lot of friends. He doesn't even seem like he belongs in the Avengers. He's so singular and separate but this movie touches on that also.”