After opening up the cosmos even further with Guardians of the Galaxy and giving movie consideration to their most outlandish hero to date (Ant-Man), it seems like the Marvel Cinematic Universe is ready to tackle just about anything. That’s a good thing, too, because next year the MCU will once again be breaking down some barriers, exploring an entire realm of supernatural mysticism and sorcery in their 2016 film, Doctor Strange.
With Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) set to play the titular mystic master, 12 Years a Slave star Chiwetel Ejiofor playing his nemesis Baron Mordo and Oscar winner Tilda Swinton (Constantine) set to play Strange’s mentor, The Ancient One, needless to say that Marvel has some pretty big dramatic plans for Doctor Strange (in addition to the usual superhero action/adventure). But in order to properly explore that drama, there will need to be some changes to the Strange origin story and world.
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige is making the rounds right now to promote Ant-Man, and Birth. Movies. Death. had a chance to pick his brain about Doctor Strange and some of the changes we’ll see to the character:
New NYC Home
In Marvel Comics, Doctor Strange has typically occupied a “Sanctum Sanctorum” disguised as a townhouse in Greenwich Village, NYC. However as someone living in modern day NYC (in a Hell’s Kitchen that’s a lot more gentrified than the nightmare streets seen in Daredevil), I can tell you: Greenwich is now a place populated by Real Housewives types and exclusive upscale boutiques – not the sort of artist hangout from the 1960s days of Stan Lee.
So how will the Doctor Strange movie handle this? Says Feige:
“The Sanctum is on Bleeker Street, the modern day Bleeker Street. He will be the strangest thing walking out onto that street.”
Correction: This keeps the Sanctum in the same neighborhood – a fact that hopefully the film uses to its comedic advantage. On the surface, the thought of a doctor in Greenwich is normal – but when it comes to THIS doctor, we know that the upscale neighborhood is in for some (forgive me), strange times, indeed.
Less Offensive Origin
Like so many things from Golden Age Marvel Comics, Doctor Strange was conceived at a time when racial sensitivity and diversity weren’t all the rage. Stan Lee’s original origin for the character has a lot of hokey fake “Oriental” mysticism involved in it; needless to say, recreating it onscreen wouldn’t go over well with viewers – especially on a global scale. That cultural insensitivity is pretty much epitomized by The Ancient One, Strange’s mentor; in the comics, his basically an old Asian monk caricature.
With the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One (and subsequently, black British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo), Marvel obviously has a more modern-minded approach to the material. Speaking specifically about the Ancient one now being Tilda Swinton, Feige said:
“As we were developing this film we looked at The Ancient One as a mantle more than a specific person. The sorcerers have been around for millennia, protecting us from things we didn’t know about until this story. There have been multiple [Ancient Ones], even if this one has been around for five hundred years, there were others. This is a mantle, and therefore felt we had leeway to cast in interesting ways.”
The Ancient One being a mantle of mystic/spiritual power that inhabits different humans is an interesting twist on the character – albeit one that could be done just for stunt casting in this (and future) films. More telling perhaps is how Feige address the larger idea of mysticism in the film. Apparently, not all of that Stan Lee hokeyness will be lost:
Strange leaves New York in search of something and heads east… The phony mysticism is part of what makes Doctor Strange interesting!
Feige states that the film won’t be set in Tibet, but indicates that a fictional mystical city (Kama-Taj in the comics) could be still be in the cards. What’s interesting abut this is that on the one hand you have Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman in the DCMU – a character whose fantastical nature is being grounded in Polynesian culture and design aesthetics, to bring the idea of an Atlantean king a little bit closer to reality. With Doctor Strange it seems that Marvel will still lean on the fantastical nature of their universe, side-stepping the need for fully “grounded” or “real-world” explanation of the mystical arts. It’ll be fun to see which approach to outlandish characters ends up working best.
Ant-Man opens in theaters July 17, 2015; Captain America: Civil War – May 6, 2016; Doctor Strange– November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man reboot – July 28, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Black Panther – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – November 2, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; Inhumans – July 12, 2019.