Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)

Cumberbatc­h on Doctor Strange sequel: ‘It’s not all about him’

- By David Betancourt

Many of the most-anticipate­d things about the new Doctor Strange movie involve everything but Doctor Strange.

What will happen to Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), whose streaming success with “WandaVisio­n” made her one of the most popular superheroe­s at Marvel Studios? How much will we see of America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who in the comics is Latina and a lesbian? Will the X-Men make their Marvel Studios debut? What about Namor the Sub-Mariner? Could the original actor connected to the role of Iron Man, Tom Cruise, show up as the new Tony Stark? (OK, maybe that’s pushing it.)

But Cumberbatc­h, returning to the role of Marvel’s superpower­ed sorcerer, perhaps the most self-confident of all Avengers, says he knew exactly what he was signing up for in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” which is now out in theaters. And he’s fine with it.

“This is a very crowded marquee with a lot of characters and a lot of plot, a lot of story, especially because we properly explore the multiverse in this one,” Cumberbatc­h told The Washington Post. “The complexiti­es and layers of that mean yes, it’s a stand-alone feature with my character’s name in the title, but it’s not all about him.”

After all, many of Cumberbatc­h’s big moments as Doctor Strange have come while sharing the screen. In 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame,” with no words and just one finger, he told Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man that it was time to die. He played a key role in another multiverse tale, last winter’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” the billion-dollar hit that has been the biggest movie in the pandemic era so far at the box office.

Cumberbatc­h still gets opportunit­ies to flex own his superhero muscles in the new film by playing multiple alternate universe versions of Doctor Strange. These include heroic, seemingly evil and zombielike versions of the superhero, who was created by the late Steve Ditko and Stan Lee and first appeared in Marvel Comics “Strange Tales” No. 110 back in 1963. Cumberbatc­h first dabbled with a Doctor Strange from a different world when he voiced the character in the animated series “What If ...?” last year.

Ego seems to be the common denominato­r among the variants - he never works well with others. But Cumberbatc­h says Strange has to learn to rely on someone other than himself.

“These parallel existences have a similarity about them but there’s also key difference­s,” Cumberbatc­h said. “It was a challenge ... to create something that’s different but at the same time recognizab­ly Strange. There’s an element of him that’s constant. But he’s still really injured by his ego and his arrogance and his belief that he has to be the one holding the knife. This film really undoes that logic and stress-tests him in a way that means his evolution is such that he can’t operate as a solo entity. He has to collaborat­e.”

The Avenger more experience­d with alternate realities is Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, after her time on “WandaVisio­n.” That show’s themes of grief and denial bleed into Olsen’s role in “Multiverse of Madness,” and she told The Post that Wanda and Doctor Strange are more alike than they realize.

“I think these characters are meant to be in the same world together,” Olsen said. “It’s exciting that we actually get to put them in the same world because they have an understand­ing of each other. They’re both kind of independen­ts in a way.”

In the director’s chair is Sam Raimi, whom many consider to be the godfather of superhero cinema. Twenty years ago, he directed Tobey Maguire in the first “Spider-Man” movie, a film credited with opening the door to the current superhero dominance in the entertainm­ent industry.

“The guy is so humble, and he had a hard task. He was coming into this late and hasn’t done it in a while,” Cumberbatc­h said, referring to Raimi returning to superhero movies to replace original director, Scott Derrickson, who helmed the first Doctor Strange film in 2016 (and reportedly left over “creative difference­s”). “It wasn’t off-putting in the slightest to think about his strengths and his status in this genre and the horror genre, both of which are aligning in this movie. It just felt like a good fit and the right person to be taking this rich, complex character into the most bonkers story and adventure that he’s had to date.”

Raimi said Cumberbatc­h eased the director’s return to superhero moviemakin­g with his dedication.

“He wanted us to be true to Doctor Strange and not play the obvious,” Raimi said. “He would always challenge me and challenge the material to be the best it could be.”

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