From 'Loki' to 'Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness,' Screenwriter Michael Waldron Unpacks Evolving the MCU: 'Now Anything Goes'

Doctor Strange, the screenwriter tells Metacritic, 'reckons with a true multiversal adversary, which is the first of its kind in the MCU.'
by Scott Huver — 

From left to right: Xochitl Gomez, Benedict Wong, and Benedict Cumberbatch in 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness'


Screenwriter Michael Waldron may not be quite as cosmically aware a being as The Watcher, but on a Hollywood level he is the Marvel Cinematic Universe's reigning Master of the Multiverse. 

A scribe on the wonky time-traveling escapades of Rick and Morty and the wrestling drama Heels, Waldron entered the Marvel realm at the onset of its post-Iron Man, post-Thanos era with no small task ahead of him. As the creator of the Disney+ series Loki, he was not only charged with creating a riveting yarn with the superhero universe's charming antihero at the center, he also needed to establish an entry point and the ground rules for Marvel's multiverse, the myriad alternate realities that promised to serve as a unifying building blocks and plot points for the next overall phase of the MCU — concepts which were immediately put into play just months later, first in the streamer's animated parallel universe series What If…?, and then in the blockbuster film Spider-Man: No Way Home

Oh, and Waldron also needed to effectively introduce He Who Remains, a spacetime-based adversary who is widely expected to return in future Marvel projects in another villainous form, the Avengers' classic comic book enemy Kang, likely the Thanos-esque Big Bad of the new era. 

And next Waldron was on to the next stop in Marvel's emerging master plan, penning the script for director Sam Raimi's Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness, which promises to advance and complicate the multiversal narrative even further as well as incorporate Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch, whose emotional storyline in the smash hit streaming series WandaVision proved massively popular — and luckily, Waldron's friend Jac Schaeffer, WandaVision's creator, was on hand to help him chart Wanda Maximoff's latest evolution. 

"We're blowing the lid on the multiverse," Waldron tells Metacritic about the movie. "You saw what happened in No Way Home. That was just the beginning of the danger that the multiverse presents. I think that Stephen Strange is the perfect character to throw into the center of that kind of conflict because of his knowledge of this sort of thing, but it's beyond even his control or breadth of understanding. And so, it'll be fun to see Doctor Strange on his back foot as he reckons with a true multiversal adversary, which is the first of its kind in the MCU."

In advance of the release of Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness, Waldron talks to Metacritic for a spoiler-free chat to reveal just how, not unlike The Watcher, he straddled multiple realities to the chart the future of the MCU.  

How did how did your work on Loki set up what you were able to do in Doctor Strange and where you were able to take the whole multiverse concept forward, knowing that this was something that was going to be of a theme playing through this phase of the MCU? 

I think that it unleashed the multiverse in that what it allowed for was multiversal storytelling and the possibility that in our main MCU timeline characters could encounter versions of themselves from other universes, as you see in Spider-Man: No Way Home, or even potentially in the future travel to other universes, as we see happen in the comics. So, it felt like the net result of Loki was going to break in the dam on the multiverse and now anything goes.

Did you get to approach the film with that same "Anything goes" mentality you were afforded on Loki, where the sky was the limit as far as the mind-bending multiverse tricks you could play on the audience? 

Totally, totally. The sky is always the limit over there. That's why I love working with Marvel. They always say you get to test the fences over and and see just how far you can go. There's no no swing too big as long as it's driven by character and by truth. And that's what's exciting about working with Marvel: it's not spectacle for spectacle's sake. It really does always feel driven by emotion and humanity, in the ways that the best Marvel Comics always do as well. 

Tell me how, while working on Loki, you wrapped your head around how to accomplish all of those things to set up the MCU's multiverse and still effectively tell a great story. 

It couldn't be only possible without a great team around me. It took the work of our entire writing staff, and then the work of our director Kate Herron and the whole crew, rendering all of our sci-fi stuff in a way that was digestible to tell to tell this story. I think I've benefited from the fact that I'd just come off of Rick and Morty, which was a science fiction-heavy show. Every day in that writers' room was a constant inundation of big sci-fi ideas and exposure to books and comics and movies and TV shows, stuff I'd never even heard of, from my fellow writers.  And so, that part of my brain was really worked out, I guess, at that point.  

And I just tried to always take the approach of, "We've got to tell this story in a way that my grandfather can understand it. Let's never make part of the audience feel left out." Because our sci-fi, multiversal stuff gets so "inside baseball," so nuanced, so intricate. And so I really always wanted it to be accessible, while hopefully still being sophisticated. 

How does the process work between you and the greater MCU? Were you given certain ideas of what Marvel Studios would like you to try to include to help set up the tapestry for what's coming? Did that just emerge organically? How does that that process come together to serve the big and narrow pictures? 

Very much the latter. There is almost no talk of what's coming next. And what do you have to set up, it's not about hitting checkpoints over there; it's about what project are you on and making it the greatest thing it can possibly be, and then trusting that it will naturally align with all of the other individual projects being made, all of which are also made with that same ethos [that] we should be individually great.  

And so, you kind of you operate in a little bit of a vacuum, with the help of your executives who are assigned to the show keeping you aware of what other shows are doing, what other movies are doing. And when there's opportunities for connectivity, sometimes it's great — you reach for that. But the goal is always, first make a great Loki show, because ultimately what's going to advance the MCU more than anything else — more than any certain plot point or whatever — is just a great individual entry in the canon. 

Tell me about collaborating with Jac Schaeffer on Doctor Strange after she did game-changing work advancing Scarlet Witch on WandaVision, as you did on Loki. What was fun about bringing your two voices in alignment with both of you coming out of these shows?

Jac is so talented. We got to know each other just because, first off, our writers' rooms were sitting right next to one another when I was writing Loki and she was writing WandaVision, and we just became friends. I leaned on Jac just because it felt like WandaVision was the gold standard to me of how an inventive, original MCU show can come together. It felt like they had a level of ambition that was comparable to what we were trying to do. So, she and I became and remain friends.  

And then when I took on the job of writing Doctor Strange 2, and it was clear that Wanda was going to be a prominently featured character in that movie. It was really important to me that I do justice to the great work my friend had just done on her show. And then beyond that, Jac was a great resource and sounding board for the movie. So being able to work in tandem with Jac and with Lizzie [Olsen] in shaping this next iteration of Wanda was great. 

When you're working with a multiverse and you've got such a deep bench of characters, concepts and alternate universe twists to draw from, what is the discipline needed to keep from going crazy with all the possibilities that are in front of you?

You've got to allow yourself to have fun in the writers' room and your outlines and your first drafts and then pull it back. In the early conceptions of [Loki's] Episode 5 in the void — that temporal dumping ground where we realized, "Wow, almost anything can go down here" — we talked about every bizarre Marvel concept and deep-cut thing from the comics we could possibly find for that story. And so, you want to have all that fun and put all those ideas out there, but ultimately remember it's just there to service your characters and their journey, and that that always has to win the day. 

What was fun about working on a character like He Who Remains, laying down your take and knowing that this character might be picked up in radically different form because of the variant spect, but was for sure going to go forward in the MCU? 

That was a blast! Yeah, to get to sort of introduce Kang, or a version of him, into the MCU was really exciting. I just looked at other great villains in the MCU — Thanos, Killmonger — and thought, "OKwhat worked about them?" And then also you want to figure out, "What's different about this guy? What makes him a different kind of villain?" And so, that was exciting.  

And He Who Remains in a lot of ways, you might argue, is the best possible version of Kang. That is certainly his argument: "If you think I'm bad, wait till you meet my variants." So you want to have those hints of cruelty and an evil. We talked about him a lot. I sort of thought of him a little bit like Tom Cruise's character in Magnolia, Frank, T.J. Mackey. "OK what is the worst version of that guy?" It might be a little more like Daniel Plainview — Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood. So it's like, "Where is he on the sliding scale of Paul Thomas Anderson villains?", I guess, is what I'm always looking for. 

Are you now on call to jump in on other Marvel projects whenever they might need your expertise in shaping the multiverse or giving voice to one of the characters that you've developed when as they next pop up in the MCU? 

The great thing about the Marvel family is that it IS a family and everybody's on call. So if somebody wants you to watch a cut or read a script and just weigh in based on maybe work you've done with a certain character or something, I'm always around as a resource. I'm honored to be part of that family, and so, yeah, when they when they call I answer I'll put it that way. 

Where to watch Loki:

Where to watch Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness:
In theaters as of May 6, 2022

Get to know Michael Waldron:
Outside of his MCU work, Waldron is known for Rick and Morty (Metascore: 87) and Heels (73), but he also got his start on Community (74). Loki has a 74 Metascore.