Back in 2002, Sam Raimi pioneered the modern superhero-film machine with Spider-Man – the Tobey Macguire classic that still draws countless rewatches and internet retrospectives two decades on.
21 years later, things are certainly different – with Raimi returning with this week’s highly-anticipated Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
After nearly fifteen years away from the genre, things are pretty different. Raimi now has twice the budget and all the narrative muscle that comes with a 27-film-long MCU legacy – posing against the daunting task of fusing together horror and superheroes, two genres that haven’t played well together in ages.
Speaking to Rolling Stone, the director shared his own ‘madness’ – working across three different locations at a time between his home in L.A., London, and wherever else his actors and crew are situated, he’s caught in a multiverse of his own making, much like the film’s titular hero.
Back when Raimi kick-started filming superheroes to life, the idea of the MCU’s ‘episodic’ style with multiple ‘phases’ was certainly present in the comics, but had no real presence on screen. Funnily enough, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige – who perhaps draws much of the credit for creating the MCU – actually worked on Raimi’s Spider-Man films – a little-known fact that proves just how influential the director’s take on superheros actually is.
“He was a hardworking young man who was working closely with Avi Arad, who was [then] the head of Marvel,” recalls Raimi regarding his current ‘boss’. “Kevin was always there doing work behind the scenes and on set. Thank goodness I was nice to the kid!”
You might expect a serious amount of red tape and guidelines when it comes to joining the 17-strong army of directors that have helmed MCU films. While it’s certainly no easy feat, Raimi actually suggests the opposite – that Marvel was happy to let Raimi tinker around and play mad genius with the film, along with Loki screenwriter Michael Waldon.
“This may sound like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth,” Raimi admits, “[but] Marvel allowed me complete creative freedom. However, it had to follow so many things in Marvel lore, [so] even though I had complete freedom, the previous movies and where Marvel wants to go in the future really directed the path in an incredibly specific way. Within those parameters I have freedom.”
“We had to make sure, for instance, that Doctor Strange didn’t know more than he had learned about the multiverse from No Way Home. And yet we had to make sure he wasn’t ignorant of things that he had already learned. So everything was dictated by what had become before.”
Most fans agree that Raimi’s best superhero work appeared in Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 – with the third resulting in the least amount of discussion, rewatches, and especially memes.
The reasons for Spider-Man 3’s mixed reactions are several – it’s overstuffed with villains, a few retcons, a ridiculous amnesia plotline – someone on YouTube even compiled 142 more reasons for you to browse at your leisure.
Raimi is well aware of this – and was careful to not repeat the same mistakes this time around. “Because these characters are so beloved, you’ve got to tread very carefully,” he cautions. “I have a sense of the absurd that maybe people don’t want to see applied to their most-beloved superheroes. So for a time I thought, maybe it’s best that I don’t mix with these much-beloved characters.
I don’t want to be untrue to them or myself.”
This was a pill that Raimi had to swallow in the aftermath of 2007, as Spider-Man 4 was initially discussed, and then benched indefinitely. On discussing missed opportunities, Raimi immediately lamented missing out on a ‘great cameo’ he had planned for Bruce Campbell, who was rumored to play Mysterio – a role now picked up by Jake Gyllenhaal.
Most superhero films take on unique flavors depending on the choice of main villain – with the first three films thinning out the roster considerably, Raimi had a clearly-defined choice – Kraven the Hunter.
One of Spider-Man’s earliest foes, Kraven first hit comic book pages in 1964, and has appeared in countless pages since. A renowned big-game hunter and survivalist, Kraven’s reliance on mystical super-strength potions, honed animalistic senses, and cunning hunt strategies make him one of the most-loved classic Spidey villains. After all, what bigger prey to catch other than Spider-Man?
“I always wanted to see Kraven fight Spider-Man on the big screen,” admits Raimi. “I thought that would be really unique. He’s the ultimate hunter, and Spider-Man is like the most agile trickster of the skies. And I wanted to see Peter continue forward as a human being.
I guess the lesson would be [to] really follow what you believe in. I think if I had done that a little bit more in the end, then [Spider-Man 3] would’ve been a little better.”
Excitedly, Raimi also confirmed his interest in returning to direct a Spider-Man film – something very possible in a post-No Way Home environment. That said – he does have his doubts.
“It would be the same things that would stop me now that stopped me then: “Does Tobey want to do it? Is there an emotional arc for him? Is there a great conflict for this character? And is there a worthy villain that fits into the theme of the piece?” There’s a lot of questions that would have to be answered. If those could be answered, then I’d love to.”
Apart from being a multiversal mindf**k of a movie, the Strange sequel also happens to be a true-blue pandemic film – leading to an explosion of challenges and hurdles for Marvel Studios and Raimi, once he signed on in early 2020.
“I think the hardest part was the time deadlines, not having the story or the script [ready] … being halfway into it and not knowing what the ending was,” he admits. “Michael [Waldon’s] trying to stay a couple days ahead of us with the next page coming out of his computer printer, and it’s hard because you want to make sure that everything is supporting the whole — that the themes are running through the picture.
But when you don’t quite know everything about the picture, it’s hard to do that job as effectively as possible.”
It’s certainly been a long journey since Spider-Man first released – with multiple cameos and exciting teasers, we simply can’t wait to see what shocking and surreal scenes Raimi has in store for us fans.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness releases on May 6, 2022.
(Featured Image Credits: Sony Pictures Releasing)