With “The Avengers” sequel officially confirmed by Marvel/Disney, comic book fans the world over will be contemplating which of the publisher’s other heroes could be added to the line-up, potentially getting their own solo movie as soon as 2014 – filling the popularly acknowledged gap in the schedule alongside Captain America 2 that summer.
Of course, we have to bear in mind that Marvel Studios do not own the film rights to characters as key to their comic book universe as Daredevil, Spider-Man, Wolverine or the Fantastic Four – all of whom have allied with or become members of the Avengers at one time or another – but with that consideration in place, here is another of our suggestions for Marvel’s Next Avenger:
Doctor Strange (Dr. Stephen Strange)
Why?: Marvel prides itself on the fact that its universe mixes varied types of heroes and so far their filmic universe has successfully blended some of these in a credible way. In The Avengers you have examples of a tech hero (Iron Man), an alien/god (Thor), a victim of a radiation experiment (Hulk), a time displaced WWII super-soldier (Captain America), and two highly capable regular human types (Hawkeye and Black Widow). But one area of the comic universe not yet explored on the big screen is magic, as best represented by the Sorcerer Supreme himself: Doctor Stephen Strange.
As a relative newcomer to comics I’ve only been exposed to Strange through his appearances in titles like New Avengers, Avengers: Disassembled and Civil War – I’ve never read any of his limited solo series. Yet the character has made a very strong impression and left me with a desire to learn more. Strange is great because he’s one of those characters, like Leo in The West Wing or Giles in Buffy, who commands a deep, unwavering respect from everyone else. When he turns up he brings a sense that things just got serious and generally all the comic backchat stops whilst he explains whatever grave situation has befallen our heroes, who listen intently.
Strange is the polar opposite of those superheros who deliver a constant stream of one-liners and quips (I’m thinking Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Deadpool), in that he is entirely serious. He gives the air of a man who knows far too much about how the universe works to be able to relax. He’s always monitoring the use of the magics in our dimension, of which he is the undisputed, uncontested master. He exists above and beyond the regular concerns of the Marvel universe: for instance, (though he later regretted it) he chose to sit out the super human civil war as a neutral party, preferring not to meddle in affairs so prosaic as Captain America fighting Iron Man. He’s generally above that stuff.
He also looks badass. It’d be nice to see someone rocking his red cape and purple robes on the big screen, with a mustache and streaks of grey in his hair. If a guy can dress like that and command respect from the likes of Wolverine then you know he means business. He also has so much cool stuff – with iconic amulet the Eye of Agamotto and mystical mansion residence the Sanctum Sanctorum begging to become household names.
Story?: I can’t claim to know any of the great Strange stories of the past, either from old issues of Strange Tales (no relation) or from his own solo series, but for me the obvious starting point for the character would be to explain the journey of Stephen Strange from humble surgeon to master of magic. I think it would need to be set in the past because, in order to command such gravitas among the other Avengers, the character would need to pre-date the likes of Iron Man. When he shows up in an Avengers movie it needs to be with decades of learning and mastery of the mystical arts. The character was at his most popular in the mid-60s, because of the comic’s bizarre and psychedelic imagery, so why not position his story there?
This would enable some nice continuity details too, such as a background news report marking the 20th anniversary of Captain America’s disappearance or another appearance from Iron Man’s dad Howard Stark (perhaps again played by Mad Men’s John Slattery).
So it’s the tale of a man’s discovery of magic and his pilgrimage to become its master, culminating with Strange earning the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme – perhaps after a climactic bout with the demon Dormammu*. The film should end with Strange, still in the past, in deep meditation receiving a terrible vision of [insert Avengers 2 plot here], at which point he opens his eyes with a start and looks worried. Roll credits.
If Marvel/Disney wanted to they could easily use the character to tell a ghost story and make a sort of PG horror movie, but I think that would seem like too big a risk when the obvious money spinner would be something more action orientated.
*Introducing Dormammu also gives Marvel a way of bringing master criminal Parker Robbins (AKA The Hood) into their future movies. Which would be awesome.
Likelihood?: A Doctor Strange movie is almost certain to happen, it’s just a case of when. Producer Kevin Feige has already confirmed a long-term plan to take the cinematic universe in some wackier directions, stating several times that a Strange movie will be made in order to introduce magic. Even so it’s possibly the hardest sell to date, arguably even more difficult to integrate with Iron Man and company than the mythical viking god of thunder.
Whereas Thor can be explained as being from outta space, the full-blown weirdness of Strange is Earthbound and involves shifting between dimensions, casting spells and battling hellish demons (some of which are literally from Hell*). There have been decades of failed attempts to take this hero into cinemas, so this is one that could sit in development hell for a long time.
*In recent comics one of Strange’s primary allies has been none other than the son of Satan. Yes, really.
Casting?: Early depictions of the character seem to be closely based on Vincent Price and, were he not sadly departed from our plane of existence, I couldn’t think of a better match for the part. In terms of living actors, there has already been a lot of speculation online about who fans would like to see portray Dr. Stephen Strange. I’ll go through some of the candidates frequently mentioned and say why they aren’t going to happen:
Johnny Depp: Yes, he would look good in the costume but, in the case of Mr. Depp, art and commerce will unite to give a resounding “no!” Not only has this once charming character actor become a grotesque and OTT parody of himself, he would also be far too expensive for what would certainly be a moderately budgeted franchise. It’s also a bad fit because Depp plays characters who are eccentric yet brilliant (Edward Scissorhands, Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka), whilst Strange is intensely serious and brilliant. Whilst I suppose Depp’s close relationship with Disney and enthusiastic fanbase could sway execs into splashing the cash for his signature, I very much doubt they’d be able to tie him to one of the six picture deals Marvel has been handing out.
Jude Law: I like him very much as a supporting actor, with recent turns in the Sherlock Holmes movies and Contagion showing his range. However, if the last ten years have taught us anything, it’s that people don’t pay to go see any film in which Jude Law stars. Then again the pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. was a not exactly a bankable star and had been written off more than once by critics.
Liam Neeson: I find this suggestion intriguing, with Neeson certainly having that required wizened gravitas and natural authority. However he’s become a little overexposed in recent times, appearing in a multitude of forgettable thrillers and blockbuster bit-parts. And making a Doctor Strange movie would certainly take more time and pay less money than appearing briefly in something like Battleship (unless post-Avengers hubris is about to make Marvel less financially stringent).
In my opinion it’s the actor most heavily linked to the part who makes for the best (and most likely) candidate. Patrick Dempsey. Fight that gag reflex. Admittedly there isn’t a good Patrick Dempsey vehicle that springs to mind (though I loved Enchanted), but the actor himself ticks a lot of boxes: he’s unlikely to be prohibitively expensive; he’d look dashing in a cape with flecks of grey hair; he could effectively pull off earnest-man-of-learning without seeming remote and inhuman; and, most crucially, he’s publicly on record as a Marvel Comics fanboy who has actively lobbied for the part.
Director?: The early comics were formally experimental, with the writers and artists of that niche title (with, it’s thought, a predominantly student stoner readership) allowed to mix the style of Stan Lee’s other books with such disparate elements as the imagery of Salvador Dali, ancient symbolism and eastern philosophy. Somehow I don’t see a Disney summer tentpole property going too far “out there”, but it’d be interesting to see a director attached who would bring an amount of style and oddness.
I nominate the visually distinctive talents of geek-friendly Mexican Guillermo Del Toro (once attached to the project in 2008), but he can’t seem to get any of his 57 current projects finished/started so he’s probably not on the radar of a studio increasingly notorious for its tight scheduling. A pity as the Hellboy movies provide an interesting template for someone might portray the world of demons and monsters in which Strange frequently does battle.
90s Tim Burton would be a decent fit but he isn’t with us anymore. But, as with Depp, the man currently calling himself Tim Burton has a strong relationship with Disney, so who knows? In which case that begs the question, which Marvel character is Helena Bonham Carter going to play? Terry Gilliam would be an inspired choice but he’s likely to have the same concerns surrounding his name as Del Toro, chief among them being question marks over whether or not the film would come in on time and on budget.
Alternatively, to explore the cheap, up-and-coming route, how about Woman in Black director James Watkins?
Let us know your thoughts about a Doctor Strange movie in the comments below and check back soon as we reveal more candidates for Marvel’s Next Avengers!
If you missed it, here is our first entry in this series: #1: Ms. Marvel