This article contains spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
It’s easily the coolest moment we’ve seen yet in Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (maybe the second coolest, after a certain convening of several webslingers in Spider-Man: No Way Home): two-thirds of the way through Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the Master of the Mystic Arts (Benedict Cumberbatch), stuck for the moment on Earth-838 in a different universe, is brought before the Illuminati, a council of superheroes who do their best to guide history and protect their realm.
The members of the Illuminati include Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Baron Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) Captain Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Captain Marvel/Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), Blackagar Boltagon of the Inhumans (Anson Mount) and Dr. Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four (John Krasinski).
Of course, rumors of the Illuminati’s involvement in the Doctor Strange sequel had been running rampant for months before the movie’s release, confirmed by the film’s second trailer in which the unmistakable voice of Sir Patrick – making his MCU debut after playing Professor X for years over at Fox – could be heard. But seeing them all up on the dais – especially Reed Richards, marking the first appearance of a Fantastic Four member in the MCU – was still a mind-blowing moment.
The question is, was this lineup always the one envisioned by producer Kevin Feige, director Sam Raimi and screenwriter Michael Waldron? Or was there the possibility of other members of the Illuminati – such as an alternate Iron Man, a different Black Panther, or Namor the Submariner – showing up?
“It was a moving target to be sure,” Waldron tells Den of Geek. “I can’t believe what the final lineup was, because that felt like the most pie-in-the-sky, like, we’ll never get all or any of these characters. And instead somehow we got all of them. So we were really lucky to get that. It was just a constant evolution of who’s going to round out this team.”
Asked if there were any iconic Marvel superheroes he would have liked to see on the council, Waldron remarks, “Tom Cruise’s Iron Man would have been cool,” acknowledging the long-running rumor that the Top Gun: Maverick star would put on the armor. “But I don’t think I would trade out anybody we have,” Waldron adds. “The alchemy of the team is perfect. And I love how that fight shakes out.”
The fight in question occurs when an enraged Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) storms the Illuminati’s citadel, taking on each member in turn and quickly exterminating them (except for Mordo) in a show of her terrifying powers. We barely get to meet Reed Richards or this universe’s much cooler version of Black Bolt before Wanda makes quick, gruesome work out of them.
But as we know from Marvel’s multiverse exploits so far, just because one version of the Fantastic Four’s leader is dead in this universe, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t untold numbers of other Reed Richards running around on other Earths. That also means that even though MCU devotees have been fan-casting John Krasinski literally for years in the role, another actor could theoretically step in to play our universe’s edition of the stretchy superhero.
“Well, I don’t know how much I can say, because I can’t technically talk about any specifics of any Illuminati members,” says Waldron cautiously about that argument. “But I do think it’s a way to — you get to see how the audience cheers, which is always fun, and you get to see how they groan if one of those characters happens to meet an untimely end, so I don’t know, it’s always a nice little test run.”
Based on fan response so far to the appearance of Krasinski and the others, that test run may end up being the best real-time market research that Marvel has done to date…
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is out in theaters in every universe now.