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Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness - What We Know So Far

It is safe to say Marvel fans are eagerly anticipating the full-blown cinematic return of Bleecker Street's mystical physician after the success of 2016's Doctor Strange and his appearances in Thor: RagnarokAvengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Benedict Cumberbatch has fast become a fan-favorite as the prickly Master of the Mystic Arts, and Marvel Studios mastermind Kevin Feige and his team will surely have more fantastical adventures in store for audiences around the globe.

While there aren't too many concrete details surrounding the sequel thus far, certain details have begun to trickle out into the ether, and there is plenty for hungry fans to speculate about. Marvel Studios' presentation at San Diego Comic-Con 2019 fanned the flames of anticipation with a tantalizing discussion about just what the filmmakers have in store for the sorcerer. From possible villains to returning cast members, from potential comic story adaptations to rumored star additions, the hype surrounding the sequel — officially titled Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness — is palpable. One thing is for certain: whatever Marvel decides to do with the good doctor, audiences everywhere can expect something... strange.

What's the release date for Doctor Strange 2?

The Walt Disney Company — entertainment overlords and owners of everything you loved as a child — previously announced nine reserved release dates for "untitled Marvel films" between May 2020 and July 2022. Judging by how successful the first film's opening weekend was back in November 2016, it would have made sense to assume Disney and Marvel would like to try and repeat that kind of box office with another November release, but this was not to be.

At the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel head Kevin Feige unveiled details on Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including official release dates for all of the company's major upcoming projects in 2020 and 2021. This announcement included a May 7, 2021 release date for the freshly-minted Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The decision to move Doctor Strange from November to May showcases just how popular the character has become in the past few years. While November and the beginning of the holiday season is certainly a traditional home for some major films, May still holds more prestige in Hollywood circles as the beginning of the "blockbuster" season. Marvel clearly had a lot of faith in this particular sequel to put it at the forefront of its summer 2021 slate.

Of course, all that faith couldn't save Marvel's schedule from a massive reshuffling in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. In April of 2020, Disney announced that each movie in the MCU's fourth phase would be getting pushed back in a domino effect beginning with Black Widow's inability to meet its initial May 2020 date while theaters everywhere remained closed. Doctor Strange lost that May 2021 slot to Shang-Chi, ending up in November after all — November 5, 2021, to be exact.

Scott Derrickson will not be back in the director's chair

Marvel Studios turned heads back in 2014 when they announced the hiring of Scott Derrickson to direct the then-upcoming Doctor Strange. The choice seemed to come out of left-field at the time, as Derrickson's career to that point consisted primarily of horror fare like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister. In December 2018, Marvel officially brought Derrickson back to helm Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. A few months later, the director teased his plans for the film at San Diego Comic-Con. "I want to get into the territory that got me into Doctor Strange in the first place — the Gothic and the horrific," Derrickson said. "So we're gonna make the first scary MCU movie." However, at a New York Film Academy event in December 2019, Marvel boss Kevin Feige denied that the sequel would be a full-on fright-fest. "I wouldn't necessarily say that it's a horror film, but it is, as Scott Derrickson, our director, has pitched it, it'll be a big MCU film with scary sequences in it."

That disagreement over tone may have been a red flag. On January 9, 2020, Derrickson announced on Twitter that he'd decided not to direct Multiverse after all. "Marvel and I have mutually agreed to part ways," he wrote, "due to creative differences." Derrickson noted that he remained "thankful" for the opportunity, and that he'll also stay on the project as an executive producer.

A master of superheroes and horror may be directing Doctor Strange 2

With original director Scott Derrickson stepping down over some apparent creative differences with Marvel brass, the studio was left without anybody to helm the next episode in one of its most lucrative properties. Only a handful of directors in the world have the skills and experience necessary to take on something as gargantuan and complicated as a superhero movie, particularly one with horror elements. About the only person left in Hollywood who could direct Doctor Strange 2 might be Sam Raimi, who directed 2002's Spider-Man and its two sequels, but only after cutting his teeth on the frightening Evil Dead series. It would seem that Marvel got the perfect director, because according to a February 2020 report in Variety, the studio has been negotiating with Raimi to tackle Doctor Strange 2.

Did Raimi predict this turn of events more than 15 years ago? In Spider-Man 2, newsman J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) and employee Hoffman (Ted Raimi) try to come up with names for a villain, and before settling on Doctor Octopus, they consider "Doctor Strange," but reject it, because "it's taken."

What will Doctor Strange 2 be about?

There may not be an official plot synopsis for Doctor Strange 2, but plenty of potential story hints have been dropped by some behind-the-scenes people who are in-the-know. In an April 2016 interview with Double ToastedDoctor Strange co-writer C. Robert Cargill stated that Marvel felt some of the initial ideas he and then-director Scott Derrickson had for the first film highlighted too much of the "weird stuff" associated with the character. To introduce the hero, they reasoned, the origin story would have to ease audiences into his bizarre world. 

However, Marvel did tell the pair to hold on to their more outlandish ideas for potential future films in the franchise. While talking to Den of Geek in 2016, Derrickson referenced Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, saying, "What made The Dark Knight so great was that the origin story of Batman had been well-told, and then it was time to bring in a villain where you really got to go deep. And not just the Joker, also Two-Face. It was a more visceral experience, I'd love to be able to do that for Doctor Strange" (via SlashFilm). Though he's no longer in the Multiverse of Madness director's chair, Derrickson's role as executive producer ensures his influence won't be entirely absent from the sequel.

Which comic stories might provide hints about Doctor Strange 2?

During an interview in 2016 with CBR, Doctor Strange co-writer Jon Spaihts mentioned two big-time Strange-related characters from Marvel Comics: major love interest Clea and supervillain Nightmare. "[Clea is] a really compelling character as a foil, a love interest, a colleague of Doctor Strange's," Spaihts explained, "and she always carries with her that width of mystery as to whether she is human, and how human, and what that means for his relationship to her." While the first film already introduced Rachel McAdams' Christine Palmer as a love interest, it is not outside the realm of possibility for a comics-based character as popular as Clea — a character who recently starred in Mark Waid's run on Doctor Strange — to make an appearance in the sequel.

Expanding on the idea of adding Nightmare to the MCU, Scott Derrickson mentioned the arch-villain in an interview with IGN. "I really like the character of Nightmare and the concept that the Nightmare Realm is a dimension..." he explained. "That's early — that's like the first Strange tale. I think that's in the introductory episode of Doctor Strange, and I always loved that." While Marvel Studios honcho Kevin Feige might be hesitant to showcase another villain focused around unstable realities so soon after Mysterio's big-screen debut in Spider-Man: Far from Home, bringing a heavy hitter like Nightmare into the fold certainly does track with the title Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Benedict Cumberbatch returns as Doctor Strange

Fans of Sherlock and pretty good celebrity impressions will be happy to know Benedict Cumberbatch is slated to return as Dr. Stephen Strange when the sequel enters production. After spending years honing his craft in various stage productions throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, Cumberbatch began starring in television and film. He would eventually start to gain widespread recognition for smaller roles in films like 2007's Atonement and 2008's The Other Boleyn Girl before hitting the big time with the titular role in 2010's BBC/PBS hit series Sherlock. As the show's four seasons unfolded over seven years, Cumberbatch would be nominated for numerous awards for the role, winning a Primetime Emmy in 2014.

Before booking the lead in Doctor Strange, Cumberbatch parleyed his newfound success into roles in numerous films such as Star Trek Into Darkness12 Years a Slave, and The Imitation Game. In addition to appearing as Stephen Strange three more times since his solo movie's release, Cumberbatch has found the time to voice the Grinch in the 2018 film of the same name and shoot roles in Oscar-bait films like The Current War and upcoming WWI film 1917. While it is unclear how long Cumberbatch's MCU contract is, audiences will likely continue appearing in droves as long as the steely-eyed Brit is playing the character. 

When Deadline asked the thespian in 2018 about returning for another round of mysticism, his enthusiasm was clear. "Just try and stop me," he laughed. Cumberbatch appeared on stage during the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con mentioned that, after showing a confident Doctor Strange during Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, "We'll be going back to destroy him a bit, I think."

Elizabeth Olsen joins the fun

Marvel fans got a pretty exciting surprise (among many others) during the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con when it was revealed that Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch would be joining Cumberbatch and company for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Marvel Studios is no stranger to throwing major characters from other parts of the MCU into supporting roles in other superhero pictures, with appearances from Black Widow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the Hulk in Thor: Ragnarok coming to mind. Seeing as there are no Avengers pictures on the upcoming docket — and the fact that her own powers draw upon the mystic arts — it makes sense that Scarlet Witch would join Doctor Strange in the horror-tinged sequel.

Interestingly enough, Feige and Olsen revealed on-stage that her own recently-announced Disney+ show WandaVision would tie directly into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Speaking on the connection between the two projects, Olsen stated, "I'm really excited to be able to link one story from one medium and bring it into the future because we haven't done that yet and it's super unique to [the] MCU." Details on WandaVision and how it leads into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness are sparse, but Olsen assured fans with one promise: "It's gonna get weird."

Is Rachel McAdams returning as Christine for Doctor Strange 2?

Rachel McAdams has starred in a varied diet of films, including everything from major Hollywood blockbusters (like 2010's Sherlock Holmes and, of course, Doctor Strange) to smaller, critically-acclaimed fare like 2009's State of Play and 2015's Spotlight. Having an actor of such diverse talent in a major role is a big boost to a franchise, and it's no wonder that Marvel sought her out for the key supporting role of Dr. Christine Palmer in Strange's origin movie. But now that our hero has graduated to sorcererhood, battled a cosmic warlord, and witnessed 14,000,605 possible futures, is there room in his life for, well, an ordinary human doctor?

Though an early notice from The Hollywood Reporter cited McAdams as "likely to return," it seems that original director Scott Derrickson isn't the only key player to have fallen out since then. The same Variety report that broke the news about Sam Raimi potentially taking the helm also stated with apparent certainty that she would not reprise her role for Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.

What about Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo?

Chiwetel Ejiofor has turned heads for his roles in numerous films, and this is undoubtedly true for Doctor Strange as well. Ejiofor shined in the first film as Karl Mordo, a Master of the Mystic Arts who is close to Tilda Swinton's Ancient One and a mentor to Cumberbatch's Strange throughout the film, before turning his back on the hero at the movie's end. When asked if Mordo is a hero or a villain, Ejiofor made it clear that the uncertainty of that question was exactly what he found appealing. "Oh, he's a very complex character that, really, I don't think can be nailed down either way, you know," he said. "I guess it's something to experience, is what I'd say."

The post-credits scene at the end of Doctor Strange certainly paints Mordo as a villain and sets him up to be a baddie in future films, but whether that comes to fruition in the sequel remains to be seen. Ejiofor certainly is no stranger to working with Disney, as he has the important role of iconic villain Scar in Jon Favreau's live-action remake of The Lion King, as well as a part in the sequel to 2014's Maleficent

Will the Ancient One return?

Tilda Swinton's Ancient One shocked the Marvel fandom when she returned to the MCU during Avengers: Endgame's time heist. Having provided a true emotional core and sense of weight to Doctor Strange by serving in a mentor/moral compass role before her untimely death, Swinton's actual return in a sequel could rob the original of some emotional heft. However, if the Star Wars franchise taught the American moviegoing public anything, it is to prepare for mentors to return as spectral figures after their deaths. The world of Doctor Strange is already shrouded in mysterious and mystical forces that defy explanation. Is it really that far of a stretch to imagine that the story team could concoct a reason for Swinton's Ancient One to return for a heart-to-heart with her former mentee? It would take some narrative gymnastics, but it certainly is not out of the realm of possibility. 

Other possible Doctor Strange 2 villains

With major Doctor Strange nemeses Dormammu and Mordo introduced in the first movie (not to mention the dispatching of Mads Mikkelsen's Kaecilius), and Nightmare being rumored for the second, what other options are there for an antagonist to fight against the good doctor? Fortunately, Strange has been around in Marvel Comics since the late '60s, providing a treasure trove of possible baddies to act opposite Cumberbatch. Could Feige and company throw Mephisto — Marvel's incarnation of the literal Devil — at Stephen Strange? Mephisto played the villain in the major 2018 Strange story Damnation, taking over Las Vegas for himself. Where else would an approximation of the Devil like to stake his claim than Sin City?

Perhaps Marvel would like to provide some continuity with the first film and introduce Umar, Dormammu's sister, as the new antagonist. Umar is a more realistic take on a cosmic villain, and she usually has more of a motive than "I Want To Rule Everything." She's even the mother of long-time Strange love interest Clea. Talk about built-in conflict!