It's probably no surprise that Sony's upcoming Doc Savage movie, based on the classic pulp fiction stories about the heroic scientist and adventurer that is set to be directed by Shane Black (Iron Man 3), is taking a little while to cook. With a property that hasn't been injected back into the popular consciousness for a while, and which has only ever had one critically and commercially disastrous movie made out of it, Doc Savage is a long way from being a safe bet.
If there could be said to be a safe bet in the film industry right now, superheroes would probably top the list, given the reliable success of Spider-Man for Sony/Columbia, the Dark Knight trilogy and Man of Steel for Warner Bros., the X-Men movies for Twentieth Century Fox and - last but not least - the Marvel cinematic universe for Disney and Marvel Studios.
Speaking in the above interview with IGN, Black expresses his belief that Doc Savage has a lot of superhero qualities, but that he also needs to have a bit of an edge:
"Obviously in the books there's an element of 'goody goody' that we like. Doc Savage was the basis essentially for Superman because his name is Clark, he has a fortress of solitude, and 'oh Superman has the same thing, that's odd.' But that kind of perfect hero who never makes mistakes him great to a point and that type of adventure and the pulp it represents has been so imitated. Raiders of the Lost Ark is essentially a child of Doc Savage. But we needed something more.
"So we kept it in the 30s, we beefed up the sort of rationale behind what it would take to be a perfect person and to be trained as such from childhood and how that would scar someone. And what it would take to be a parent who is capable of inflicting that on your kid. But beyond that we've also tried to be true to the series, give him the helpers and it's also reinvigorating it but introducing a whole new brand of people to this is a challenge. It's been around, it's been 75 years."
Fans of the classic Doc Savage stories might be somewhat affronted by the idea of Clark being portrayed as emotionally scarred by his own perfectionism, but there's no denying that such an interpretation could add an interesting extra dimension to Clark's vow that he will "strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better." One the one hand it could be lamented that modern heroes are so rarely portrayed as wholly good and righteous (even Superman used his powers to commit some pretty morally questionable actions in Man of Steel), but a Doc Savage who struggles under the weight of his own desire to always better himself might be a lot more relatable than one who never shows any weakness of resolve.
The script, written by Black in collaboration with Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry, sounds like it's already fairly refined. When talk came around to the subject of casting, however, Black admitted that the progress was still in the early stages. This isn't necessarily due to the struggle of finding the right actor to embody the persona of Doc Savage, but is more to do with making sure that Black's choice fits the physical profile:
"Here's the problem: They kind of gotta be tall. He's the perfect physical specimen and when people look at him, they're overawed by the sort of symmetry and perfection that he exudes. I don't know that you could use like James McAvoy as Doc Savage. You couldn't do it. He's a fine actor, but we need someone big. Back in the day Schwarzenegger was talked about to play Doc Savage. I don't know who we'd get."
Black probably won't be short of people yelling suggestions at him (feel free to shout out your own), and while he didn't respond directly to suggestions of actors like Vin Diesel and Tom Hardy, he seemed amenable to the suggestion of Thor: The Dark World star Chris Hemsworth, replying, "That's not a bad idea. What's he doing?"
Sony's president of production Hannah Minghella has previously said that the studio intends to turn Doc Savage into a franchise that will be built "from the ground up," but actual plans for sequels will almost certainly be put on hold until the first movie has been tested at the box office. Disney's recent financial calamity The Lone Ranger has given Sony plenty of reason to play Doc Savage a little cautiously, since it demonstrated that classic pulp fiction characters aren't necessarily an easy sell nowadays.
Black's description of the script for Doc Savage raises a tricky question: should the source material for such classic characters be treated as sacred or should writers and directors always (like Doc Savage himself) simply strive towards the best possible end result, even if it means altering the protagonist a little?
We’ll keep you updated on Doc Savage as the project develops.