It’s time we have an open and honest discussion about just how poor films based on Marvel comic-book heroes have been in the last three decades. For every decent X-Men film (not including the Brett Ratner-directed X-Men: The Last Stand, which was pretty meh), you have your Ben Affleck as Daredevil, your truly horrible 2004 Punisher (which made the 1989 version starring Dolph Lundgren look like a masterpiece), and I’m still unsure why the hell they keep beating the poor Hulk and Fantastic Four franchises to death. The kid from Billy Elliot as Ben Grimm? That just doesn’t seem right.
The Marvel universe has sinned against its fans over and over again on film, but I’ve always been willing to forgive all of those transgressions (save for the way they butchered the Venom plot in Spider-Man 3) if they’d only make a really good Doctor Strange movie. And now they have an opportunity to do that.
The thing about most superhero films these days is that their success tends to depend on who can utilize CGI the best, and who can produce the biggest booms. DC tried to do something different with the Christopher Nolan Batman films, attempting to weave more sociopolitical themes and a stronger emphasis on acting into the not-so-family-friendly trilogy. Marvel, on the other hand, has prioritized entertainment over art — and that makes perfect sense, since the name of the game is getting butts into seats. Yet I believe that, short-term box-office jackpot aside, the pervasive lack of substance is sure to damage Marvel’s major franchises in the future. You can only rehash the same characters and the same plots with sub-par results so many times.
That’s what makes Doctor Strange so intriguing. Developed in the 1960s, Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange was Marvel’s mystical, heady counterculture character whose stories were littered with ancient Egyptian and Sumerian symbolism, magick (yes, with the “k”), and strange worlds clearly influenced by the psychedelic era, full of swirling colors and other assorted mindfuckery. A Doctor Strange film true to the character’s origins would provide Marvel with the opportunity to do something different with one of their characters — because unlike Wolverine, Spider-Man, or Captain America, Doctor Strange doesn’t count on action-packed fight scenes to make things interesting.
My biggest fear is that Marvel Studios won’t realize that. When your films earn hundreds of millions of dollars more times than not, the obvious approach is to stick to the formula. Marvel has shown time and time again that it isn’t exactly looking to make masterpieces. I’m not suggesting they make the Doctor Strange movie some kind of art-house film; I just think that something different from what they’ve been giving us year after year could go a very long way towards pleasing Marvel’s most loyal fans.