Gavin Logan on Marvel taking the MCU in a different direction with Doctor Strange….
Lately the majority of Marvel’s headlines have been littered with the revolving doors situation at the front of the Ant-Man headquarters. In, out, shake it all about. It’s been messy and Marvel have come out of it looking less than savoury. In there panicked attempt to secure a director – any director – they may have just burst the bubble on one of their more interesting ventures of late. However during the Edgar Wright controversy, the announcement that one of the MCU’s other future breakaway titles Doctor Strange had landed a director managed to help put smiles back on the Marvel movie-goer faces…for now. That man was Scott Derrickson, a man many of you will not know unless you enjoy hiding behind your box of popcorn during movie night. It’s not an unfair generalisation to say he’s a horror specialist. With the exception of Hollywood remake The Day the Earth Stood Still, horror is the only genre he’s explored since his debut feature The Exorcism of Emily Rose in 2005. Sinister was hugely profitable and his latest Deliver Us From Evil starring ex-Hulk Eric Bana, looks set to be another hit.
Since the unstoppable Marvel machine got up and running with Iron Man, the studio has played it relatively safe in terms of who they have chosen to take the hot seat on their projects. While I’m not questioning the integrity of the directors on the list, their ability to deliver visually pleasing and entertaining movies or more importantly their capacity for generating lots of money at the box-office, it does feel like Marvel have resisted in hiring edgy, original filmmakers. Wright may have been their first but that ship has well and truly sunk. It’s completely understandable that a studio would want to stick with what they know. They have a brand to protect. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So is the appointment of Scott Derrickson Marvel’s attempt at entering new territory? Have they turned to the dark side?
It’s way too early to tell whether they have fully prepared themselves for murky, uncharted waters. Doctor Strange after all is probably the most supernatural character they’ve adapted so far – he doesn’t have the nickname Sorcerer Supreme for nothing – and it makes sense to turn to someone who has already had some experience in bringing something close to that to the big screen. While the studio seemed determined to pigeonhole Ant-Man with broad comedic directors, Doctor Strange is definitely headed down a more serious path. And with the recent rumours that Jared Leto, Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch may all be up for the role, it certainly already feels like a more mediative process. What works for me in Derrickson’s favour is that he’s also a writer by trade, having penned the screenplays to four of his last five movies (he also co-wrote Devil’s Knot starring Colin Firth). The key attribute to being a successful horror writer and director isn’t actually about throwing in as many scares as possible, it’s about being well versed in conveying suspense and tension on screen. Hitchcock could do that in his sleep and I’m not crazy enough to compare Derrickson to Hitch, I’m simply stating that Marvel may wish to emulate some of his style in Doctor Strange, while having the supernatural elements suitably catered to. I could of course be completely wrong. Marvel may want Derrickson to go all out – Kevin Feige has mentioned in the past that the movie might resemble a Ditko/Kubrick/Miyazaki/Matrix-style mind trip – but let’s be real here, Doctor Strange won’t be a horror movie, it may just have some components hereditary to the genre.
It’s clear Marvel have evolved over the past few years. While there is undoubtedly a formula they work from, they don’t seem comprehensively blinded by the ‘cha-ching’ of the cash tills. They’ve made enough money to now be able to take a few risks. Edgar Wright was a risk so why didn’t they stick with him? Who really knows, perhaps his ideas were just too out there and at the end of the day they have to do what they think is right for the franchise. The founding reason to help support this theory is Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel hired an indie filmmaker to adapt one of their more obscure, sci-fi themed ensemble pieces. Judging by the trailers, for all intents and purposes Guardians of the Galaxy will be a huge success and there’s even been talks of a sequel although nothing has been confirmed yet.
Whether Doctor Strange will indeed be something unique we haven’t seen from Marvel yet is still up in the air. It’s likely that Marvel may try to evoke a similar approach to the Bruce Banner/Tony Stark characters – brilliant mind and all that – but what’s even more likely is that Strange will eventually take his place in the Avengers line up and so to separate him as an individual – without depending solely on his powers – they have no choice but invest in the man as well as the magician. We’re sure to know more once SDCC comes around.