Conversely, for Wanda, it was about reckoning with the dark places that her grief could take her as evinced by her mental subjugation of the residents of Westview in "WandaVision."
"At the end of that story, she's given the Darkhold and learns that her children are out there in the multiverse," said Waldron. "And so it felt like she was at a little bit of a crossroads at the end of 'WandaVision.' And that's where we picked up our story. It felt like she had gotten most of the way to a place where she could be pushed by Stephen and others standing in the way of what she wanted to do some pretty villainous things. She started out a villain and then joined the Avengers but has always sort of ridden that line to some extent."
"Elizabeth came in with a very high understanding of both her character and the work that Michael had done on the script," said Raimi. "And we had been part of many discussions about her character, working on the script and refining what it was that she felt she needed out of Wanda. We both had a very similar understanding of the way that it should be performed, but she always surprised me and put a lot more heart and soul and humanity in the core of everything she did than I was assuming was there. I was always surprised at the quality of her excellent acting skills."
The film, the first MCU entry billed as a "horror" despite maintaining a PG-13 rating, features Raimi's signature brand of camp-inflected horror.
"We were trying to have fun but not be too funny," said the director. "So it was a different kind of tone that I was going for; not really like those 'Evil Dead' movies, which are kind of goofy. But I do like over-the-top visuals, and I think the audience for this movie had a big appetite. I think they came in to see some fantastic things, and we all tried to rise to the occasion. I love working in the Marvel format. I think it was a good blend of what I do and what they do."
In fact, Raimi was able to sail through production with his artistic vision mostly unchallenged.
"I think that the level of horror that Marvel had in their heads was about the exact same as Michael and I had in our heads as far as impact-wise, gore-wise, horror-wise," he said. "Without it being said, there was like a mutual understanding that there should be a lot of fun, spooky and even scary moments, but all under the bigger category of a fun adventure. And so there were only minor tweaks back and forth, but actually I can't even remember any."
"I kept wondering when are they going to tell us [to dial it back], but no, we had all the freedom, it felt like, to make the biggest, craziest movie we could," said Waldron.
Working on the film was a hugely collaborative process, Raimi says. For instance, one sequence early on in the film offers a glimpse at several different universes as Strange and America Chavez shoot through the multiverse while fleeing the Scarlet Witch. Those universes were imagined by Marvel's art directors and concept artists, led by production designer Charles Wood.
"[In the script] I tried to give a basic foundation of what the universe was like, but this being my second MCU project, I knew to trust the production designers and art directors and all those brilliant folks [to execute their own vision]," said Waldron. "I didn't spend a ton of my time trying to build an entire sci-fi world on the page. I knew I could trust Sam and our collaborators to do that."
The art department's concept designs also informed the one-eyed tentacle monster that Strange and Chavez face off with in the beginning of the film.
"Concept artists and illustrators and [later] CGI artists, shaders and colorists all had a hand in determining the look of that thing," said Raimi. "But that job of creating the monster goes past them even to the effects editors, working on timings for the creature's movements. And people in the final grade are adding and changing aspects of it in some way or another. Simultaneously, the creature's roar is being designed by some great foley artist and recording artists [incorporating] things like Tasmanian devils and other creatures. Then the mixers [determine] how these sounds are combined for the creature when it shouts. And Danny Elfman's musical score is probably the last most important component of making that monster come to life."
Later in the film is a scene where two Strange variants go head to head in a musical showdown. Storyboard artist Doug Lefler came up with the idea, collaborating with VFX supervisor Janek Sirrs and Elfman to bring the sequence to life. "Together we went forward as a team and somehow met the deadlines," said Raimi. "Just barely, though."
In a full-circle moment, Raimi's early aughts "Spider-Man" films have recently been grandfathered into the MCU with Jon Watt's "Spider-Man: No Way Home," which featured appearances from former live-action Spider-Men Maguire and Andrew Garfield alongside the MCU's official web-slinger, Tom Holland. "I loved 'No Way Home,' " said Raimi. "I thought it was a complete audience thrill ride. The crowd I was with were ooh-ing and ahh-ing, and it had a great heart to it. It was great seeing my old friends again."
When asked whether he'd be open to returning to the character now that franchise producer Amy Pascal announced that Holland may star in another three films about the web-slinger, Raimi demurred. "I love Spider-Man," he said. "And I love Tom Holland in the role. [But] if I made a Spider-Man movie, it would probably have to be with Tobey or he'd break my neck."
———©2022 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.