EXCLUSIVE: Michael Waldron on Making The Illuminati Interesting in ‘Multiverse of Madness’

Illuminati multiverse

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness delivered what’s probably the most talked-about second act in the history of the MCU. As Doctor Strange and America Chavez went on their crazy multiversal journey, they found themselves prisoners of a team of power players from Earth-838 known as the Illuminati.

Marvel Studios has been rumored to be looking into developing a project around the Illuminati, which were created by Brian Michael Bendis in 2005, and that may still happen, but the Strange sequel introduced fans to them and then proceeded to have them systematically slaughtered by the Scarlet Witch.

Multiverse of Madness is a very different movie from the one that Marvel Studios set out to make when it was announced that Scott Derrickson, who directed 2016’s Doctor Strange, was returning to helm the sequel. When Derrickson and Marvel Studios amicably parted way, Kevin Feige turned to Loki head writer Michael Waldron to begin work on a new script. Waldron was quickly joined by Sam Raimi and the two embarked on a creative journey that was full of COVID delays and some much-discussed reshoots and additional photography. With so much time for the film to grow and evolve, I was curious if the Illuminati were always a part of the pitch, or if they were added later on. Here’s what Waldron had to say:

That came in the very first draft when we started over from scratch, what became the movie, they were in the first draft of that. They weren’t even in the outline, I think as I said. It was just me sitting in my living room…me feeling bored by my own second act.

Michael Waldron

Waldron went on to explain how his time on Rick and Morty helped shape the second act, which he described as where the movie “gets drunk”:

In Rick and Morty, Mike McMahon created Star Trek: Lower Decks, Solar Opposites…he was the showrunner on the season I wrote for. He coined a term, the “duck bill”, where it’s like the story circle, Dan Harmon’s story circle, but around like 7 or 8 o’clock on that story circle, we always try to do a duck bill, where it’s like the story doesn’t just proceed linearly or in a regular curvature way, it actually duck bills out and it’s like the movie gets drunk and that’s what it felt like we needed at that point and somehow it stayed in there the whole way. It’s a testament to Kevin, who got behind the idea and thought it would be cool, and Sam and our DP John Matheson and our editors.

Michael Waldron

For Waldron and Raimi, the second act couldn’t just be a cameo fest where some of Marvel’s most powerful characters came together to wave at the camera. So the creative team went to work:

It is ultimately a guy standing opposite several stationary characters. It takes a master of the camera like Sam to make that visually dynamic. Sam was always like, “I know the audience is gonna be excited to see these people but it can’t just be boring exposition. We’ve gotta figure out a way to make it visually dynamic.” And so they pushed me and we all pushed each other to make sure the scene was there for a reason.

Michael Waldron

With so much time between the first draft and the last day of additional photography, it was reasonable to assume that the final team, composed of Reed Richards, Black Bolt, Captain Carter, Captain Marvel, Mordo, and Charles Xavier, might not have been the original “dream team” pitched by Waldron. In fact, there were all kinds of wild rumors about who might be on the team with anyone from Balder to Magneto rumored at one time or another. When asked specifically about those two, Waldron gave a careful response, saying “There were lots of names discussed is all I’ll say.Maybe those characters and more will show up down the road in another universe’s Illuminati.

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