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‘Doctor Strange’ Ushers in a New Kind of Marvel Magic

Co-writer Jon Spaihts discusses the new action-adventure hit film that delves into the supernatural side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel's 'Doctor Strange.' All images ©2016 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

Marvel producer Kevin Feige and company’s 14th feature film, the just released Doctor Strange, has reinvigorated sluggish international box offices, introducing theatre audiences to a brand-new hero who battles unseen dark forces of the supernatural on his journey to becoming the most powerful sorcerer in existence. Last week, AWN’s Spencer Fawcet had a chance to talk with the film’s co-writer Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Passengers) about how he tackled the project.

Spencer Fawcett: Were you interested in the Doctor Strange character before you wrote the script?

Jon Spaihts: Yes, he’s been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. I followed him avidly but could only read the comics in piecemeal so I was always putting together stories through found comic books.

SF: What drew you to the Doctor Strange character?

JS: Cosmic Scope, I think. The worst Doctor Strange stories are very wooden and stiff with a lot of monologues. But the best of them are mind-blowing. This is a guy who sees the beginning of the universe, then goes forward and sees the end of time. He literally does battle with the equivalent of angry gods, very much in the same vein as Lovecraftian Darkness. They had a beautiful visual style to them from artist Steve Ditko. The calligraphy of the mandalas, the symbols of the magic hanging in the air with bold colors and the physicality of magic just blew my hair back. I also loved that he wasn’t fighting just for Earth or New York, but was fighting for dimensions and universes.

SF: During the writing process, what was it like working with C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derrickson, who both come from a horror background, whereas you come from science-fiction with Prometheus?

JS: I worked very closely with Scott for the entire first lap of my process along with Kevin Feige and Stephen Broussard (Marvel executive producers). We let ourselves imagine the kind of story we wanted to tell in Doctor Strange. The outlining process went on for months - Scott Derrickson was with me the whole way. Robert Cargill came on when I went off to do Passengers (2016). I returned to the project at the end and did some more writing to help to bring it home. The open collaboration felt fantastic and Scott, as a director and a storyteller, saw eye-to-eye with me on Doctor Strange and his world. It’s not like Scott was pulling me into a horror perspective and I was pulling him into a swashbuckling perspective.

SF: Was there anything, as a Doctor Strange fan, that you were pushing for that didn’t make it into the movie?

JS: There are a thousand things that didn’t make it into the movie. But the only thing that I’ll say didn’t make it into the movie were paths not taken. And what I mean by that is that there’s a lot of beautiful, gothic horror in Strange’s backstory where – down the storylines – Shuma-Gorath was an elder god and raises the dead and its very zombie apocalypse-esque. And I’d love to see that movie. We didn’t do that movie, but maybe someday that will be part of a follow-up. But most of the stuff I dearly loved is right there in the movie.

SF: Did you feel restricted in any way by the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

JS: It didn’t feel limiting. We told Strange’s story in its own space and per its needs. And because the story is very big, there’s not a ton of room for fun cameos from other characters.  There are a few shoutouts to the wider cinematic universe that feel good to me. There weren’t any ways I felt handcuffed by those obligations. If you have those cameos, they can take you out of the movie and this is a very emotional and serious story that wants to involve the viewer. Where there are references, they are subtle and they belong. Marvel has great sensibilities when it comes to that. The only overhead guidance I got was that early on during the outlining process, Doctor Strange has to use time in a way for reasons explored in later films.

SF: Do you think Doctor Strange would align himself with Captain America or Iron-Man if he was included in Civil War?

JS: That’s a good question! I think he’s a man who does not believe the rules apply to him. So ultimately, he’s Team Cap because he believes that he knows best on how to safeguard the world.

SF: Would you like to see Doctor Strange team-up with Spider-Man or The Defenders, given that they’re all located predominantly in New York?

JS: I’d love to see that happen. I met a lot of those characters through Doctor Strange comics and he’s a frequent guest star in other people’s stories. It would be exciting to see that happen in the movies as well.

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