Marvel director drama has become somewhat commonplace. Marvel does try to satisfy the filmmakers that work with them, but Marvel is also a big corporate machine, and sometimes those interests outweigh the filmmaker’s interests. Most recently, this happened with Scott Derrickson and Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. Here’s the timeline of events:
At Comic-Con last year, Derrickson took the stage to reveal the title of Doctor Strange 2 and teased a “gothic” movie that “dipped into the horror and the horrific” and said Madness would be the “first scary MCU film”. To a fan who shouted, “Rated R!”, Feige replied, “It’ll be PG-13 and you’ll like it,” which over time morphed into a response to Derrickson, when really, Feige was responding to a shouty fan. But, cemented in everyone’s minds from this moment is that Derrickson wanted to make a film that branched into its own genre, tonally different from the rest of the MCU. If you know anything about the MCU, it should be that “tonally different” doesn’t really work for Marvel.
Then, in January, Derrickson confirmed he had left the project:
Marvel and I have mutually agreed to part ways on Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness due to creative differences. I am thankful for our collaboration and will remain on as EP.— N O S â‹Š Æ† I á´š á´š ÆŽ á—¡ âŠ¥ âŠ¥ O Æ† S (@scottderrickson) January 10, 2020
One month later, Sam Raimi was in talks to take over, but I wasn’t sold that Raimi and Marvel could come to a final agreement. Raimi has been burned by the Marvel/blockbuster machine before—granted, not the exact same one running today, but he has experienced the breakdown of studio-director relations on one of these movies already. Will he tempt fate again?
Turns out, yes he will. Speaking to Comingsoon.net, Raimi confirmed he is directing Madness:
“I loved Doctor Strange as a kid, but he was always after Spider-Man and Batman for me, he was probably at number five for me of great comic book characters. […] He was so original, but when we had that moment in Spider-Man 2 I had no idea that we would ever be making a Doctor Strange movie, so it was really funny to me that coincidentally that line was in the movie. I gotta say I wish we had the foresight to know that I was going to be involved in the project.”
He is speaking about a line in Spider-Man 2, when J. Jonah Jameson suggests they call Doctor Octopus “Doctor Strange”, but the “name is already taken”. It was an Easter egg for Marvel Comics fans back then, now it’s a weird portent that Raimi would one day direct a Strange movie. Of course, there are no details about what his vision for Madness is, but this is expected to be a major linchpin for the next few phases of Marvel movies. Madness will jump off Wandavision—whenever that airs—and will also supposedly connect to Loki.
And for Marvel, the multiverse—the idea that there are infinite alternate realities—is an important factor as they look to integrate newly acquired characters like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. It is probable that some, if not all, of those characters will end up coming from alternate earths. (It’s the cleanest way to integrate those characters into a world built specifically without them.) Madness was never a movie that would be allowed to stand on its own, it’s too important a bridge to the next generation of Marvel stories. The question is what Raimi’s vision for Strange is, but with his legit horror credentials and the fact that he made one of the greatest superhero movies of all time (Spider-Man 2), there’s no need to worry about Madness.
Will it be an exercise in corporate synergy? Yes, of course, they all are. But can it also be inventive and interesting within its corporate frame? Sure. We’ve seen Marvel balance those needs before. I do wish they would unfetter their filmmakers and let them push the boundaries a little more, but they have such a successful formula, why fix what isn’t broke? Until audiences turn away from what they offer, Marvel has no reason to push boundaries. Despite online talk, fans don’t seem to want it anyway, as they keep turning up for Marvel movies in droves even as that formula starts to wear really thin. I expect what Raimi does with Doctor Strange will look great, be somewhat clever, seed the MCU for the next three to five years, at least, and be thrilling in the moment but forgettable immediately after. You know, like most Marvel movies.