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

Horror director Scott Derrickson is helming the 'Doctor Strange' film for Marvel Studios. Is that a sign of greater diversification in the studio's upcoming offerings?

Jun 11, 2014 at 7:12AM

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?


Source: Marvel.com

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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John Casteele has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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