Will 'Doctor Strange' Movie Mark a Departure from Marvel's Film Formula?

Walt Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) Marvel Studios finally found a replacement for Edgar Wright on Ant-Man, but it's the director for a different project that may get fans excited. Scott Derrickson, the director of horror films such as Sinister, Deliver Us from Evil, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, revealed on June 3 that his next film would be Marvel's "Doctor Strange." 

The director pick gives us a point to begin speculation as to what the final film might be like. While Derrickson can do more than just direct horror films (though his only non-horror feature-length directing credit is the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still), it's likely that his focus on supernatural horror was a major factor in Marvel's choice. Does this mean that the studio might be moving away from its tried-and-true action formula?


Strange days
While the "Doctor Strange" film hasn't been given a release date yet, there have been hints during the past year that it was coming sooner rather than later. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige was quoted as saying that Doctor Strange was "a great, original character, and he checks the box off this criteria that I have: he's totally different from anything else we have, just like Guardians of the Galaxy. He's totally different from anything we've done before, as is Ant-Man, which keeps us excited."

By selecting Derrickson to direct, the studio will likely play up the supernatural aspect of the character and introduce "real" magic to the Marvel cinematic universe (as opposed to the magic that has been portrayed in the "Thor" films). It might be the darkest Marvel film to date regarding the themes it contains -- the character will defend the Earth from supernatural threats, the blackest of magics, and dangerous denizens of the Dark Dimension. While it will doubtlessly be much lighter than films such as Sinister, there will likely be much more psychological tension than you'd see in a "Hulk" or "Iron Man" film.

Source: Marvel Comics

A shift in direction
Similar to the path that Marvel Studios is taking with Guardians of the Galaxy, introducing Doctor Strange now may help to branch out the cinematic universe and move away from the core "Avengers" team. While the character will likely play a part in the third "Avengers" film (since it promises a much larger threat with Thanos on board), you won't see Black Widow tagging along in future "Doctor Strange" sequels. The character's stand-alone films will open up the world of the supernatural, potentially introducing not only Strange and his villains but also a larger supernatural world that contains characters such as Blade and Ghost Rider.

It's an interesting concept, and I can't think of another film franchise that's been diversified quite like this before. If it works then it could open up a lot of doors for Marvel Studios, both in shielding the studio from potential "superhero" genre fatigue and in allowing for major movie events that aren't directly "Avengers"-based. Doctor Strange could even be an entry point into an eventual "Midnight Sons" team-up to counter Warner Bros.' potential "Justice League Dark" film; the Midnight Sons were a supernatural-based team that at various points contained Doctor Strange, Ghost Rider, Blade, Morbius the Living Vampire, and others.

Is Marvel taking a risk?
While branching out can help protect Marvel from genre fatigue, it also carries a risk for the studio. Unlike Guardians of the Galaxy, which sees the studio keeping a focus on action despite a shift in genre, a "Doctor Strange" film with a horror angle could be significantly different than those movies that came before it.

Perhaps the biggest risk is that the film could alienate moviegoers who are used to the lighter, more action-oriented fare of Marvel films. A horror-inspired "Doctor Strange" could be unsettling for younger viewers, and calls for protests from religious groups are likely because of how the film portrays magic (just look at the protests surrounding all things "Harry Potter"). Derrickson and the studio will have to walk a fine line if they hope to give the film the sort of feel that his hiring suggests, providing just enough horror and tension to keep audiences talking while not crossing the line where audiences will reject it.

Just how much influence will Derrickson have?
While the thought of a horror director having free reign over a Marvel character is interesting, "Doctor Strange" will still have to follow the "It's All Connected" mantra of the shared Marvel universe. The film will obviously be constrained to a PG-13 rating, will still have Kevin Feige as producer, and will still be expected to fall in line with the rest of the Marvel films. Given Wright's departure from Ant-Man, there's no reason to expect the studio to bow to the wishes of one creator soon after allowing another to walk because of creative differences.

The "Doctor Strange" film will still be a Marvel film at its core, and this will help to alleviate some of the risk involved. You can expect both Marvel and parent company Disney to rein in content that it deems excessive (just as Disney did when the "Demon in a Bottle" storyline was nixed for Iron Man 3). Derrickson's biggest contribution will likely be his understanding of tension and what is unnerving (if not outright scary). This will help him to follow not only the main character's journey into the mystic arts, but also to better portray other-dimensional horrors such as the dread Dormammu.

If managed well, this combination of horror and the core Marvel experience could make for a major hit; it will have the potential to draw in not only Marvel fans but genre fans as well. It's definitely a project to watch as it comes together since how much of Derrickson's influence the film is allowed to have may be a good indicator of the future of Marvel's films.

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  • Report this Comment On June 11, 2014, at 10:18 AM, vocal75 wrote:

    Well, this is certainly interesting news. I am completely not a fan of horror, but I'm impressed with DIsney/Marvel's attitude of wanting to keep things different and fresh rather than 'this works, let's replicate it to death!'. The plan to take risks with the Marvel Universe films is one that I think will pay off in spades (although there's bound to be a bomb or two discovered in the mix). Again, while I'm not a horror fan, and would never have any interest in something in that genre, I have enjoyed the Marvel films enough to be willing to give something 'edgy' like this a chance and I suspect I'm not alone in that regard. It'll be fun to see how this universe expands!

  • Report this Comment On June 11, 2014, at 11:47 AM, Puma wrote:

    Of course they gotta think of the kids. How about they also think of the mature Marvel fans who can handle anything?! Don't leave us out in the dark!

  • Report this Comment On June 11, 2014, at 11:47 AM, ChuckT63 wrote:

    Sounds good to me, I can't wait! Wonder who will play Sorceress and Ghost Rider, and if they will go into The Defenders, which ties into several other groups, with characters like the Hulk, Silver Surfer, and even Wolverine.

  • Report this Comment On June 11, 2014, at 12:14 PM, Croaxleigh wrote:

    Puma: When it comes down to it, Disney/Marvel is a business. It's in their best interest to focus on the demographic that promises the highest return on investment for their films; that would mean going for PG-13 at best to allow for the largest audiences.

    ChuckT63: Right now, I think that the Defenders is focused on Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist (though there may be additional characters introduced in the miniseries itself.) I doubt there will be a Hulk crossover with the Defenders, and Fox still has rights to both Silver Surfer and Wolverine; they could potentially bring in other "street level" characters after the initial runs of the Netflix shows, though. (I'd personally love to see the Netflix corner of the Marvel universe to bring in Moon Knight, or possibly even the Punisher.)

  • Report this Comment On June 11, 2014, at 12:14 PM, Droppo wrote:

    I have fatigue from people talking about genre fatigue. It seems to only exist when talking about superhero movies. It's only been a few years that we have had a steady stream of them, but there is constant talk about how audiences are just going to get tired of the genre. How about romantic comedy fatigue? Slasher film fatigue? No? Spy thriller fatigue? Why not? Because it's a stupid thing to say about any genre. People go to see a movie if they want to and stay home if they don't. There's no reason to put some blame on what genre the movie is. Good movies will keep people coming out, and bad ones will bomb on their own lack of quality.

  • Report this Comment On June 11, 2014, at 12:42 PM, robbwo77 wrote:

    FYI - Disney didn't exactly nix 'Demon in a Bottle'. While not being able to tell it in such a long arc like in the books, it was essentially done in Iron Man 2. The short version - he got irresponsible, drank too much, and hurt his friends. But found himself and got back on the horse. Not nearly as developed and it could have been, but the movies are short, compared to years upon years of well-told, character-driven comics.

  • Report this Comment On June 11, 2014, at 2:05 PM, Maxxx wrote:

    Hope this brings in the rest of the Marvel dark side of characters such as Werewolve by night, Damion Hellstorm, Blade, and Ghost Rider to name a few. There are so much they can work with away from Avengers, just like with the Guardians of the Galaxy they can go into a different direction and it would be great.

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John Casteele

John Casteele is a freelance writer, editor, and occasional web cartoonist. He prefers long-term investments, largely in retail, medical, and tech.

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