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Film

Why 'Dr Strange' shows Disney cannot allow madness to flourish

@Russellisation

In just 14 years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has fundamentally changed the way that modern blockbusters are perceived, with the franchise having released 27 films that each form a singular serialised network of content that includes TV and video games. Each segment of the continued comic-book-inspired story relies on the previous instalment in the series, maintaining a momentum of consistent quality that never dips below a standard average; a well-oil machine preserved by a reliable formulaic lubricant. 

Crucially, this reliable formula has allowed the MCU’s overlords, Disney, to take more perceived creative ‘risks’, employing vibrant directorial voices that differed from the industry fodder that helmed the first phase of the franchise. Dipping their toes into the pool of minor risk, the mouse house recruited Shane Black for Iron Man 3 and James Gunn for Guardians of the Galaxy, as ‘phase two’ of the franchise took shape. 

Muting their creative voice, however, placing these influential names on the promotional material for the films turned out to be something of a hollow gesture, with each film still sticking to the same reliable formula. Mixing in one part comedy to two parts action before finishing off the potion with a tantalising post-credit sequence and you’ve created a template for every modern Marvel movie ever made.

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Sticking to this robust system is key for Disney to keep their franchise in good shape, similar to how the mystical timekeepers of the universe itself keep the story in check. Often banishing bothersome ‘spanners’ that threaten to disrupt its system from their sight, Disney hasn’t hesitated to cast away such names as Edgar Wright, Ava DuVernay and Patty Jenkins each departing their respective projects due to “creative differences”. 

Whilst this has protected the brand from harm, it has also hindered the franchise from ever achieving true greatness, held back by its own careful systematic approach to filmmaking. 

Following the release of Sam Raimi’s promising Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it is clear that this reality is still the truth. Even after well over a decade of cinematic dominance, Disney still cannot let unbridled creativity flourish. 

Promising to match the madness of 2019s epic Avengers: Endgame with the joyous surprises of fan-favourite Spider-Man: No Way Home, the brand new Doctor Strange movie from the creative spark behind Evil Dead and Drag Me To Hell was supposed to take the universe to insane new heights. Instead, despite flourishes of Sam Raimi’s filmmaking hand being evident throughout, it’s clear that his creativity was never truly allowed to blossom, making the film ‘yet another’ tiresome ladle from Marvel’s sickly multicoloured vat of content.

At one point it was rumoured that the ‘madness’ included in the movie’s title was certainly justified, with rumours pointing to crazy cameos and Raimi-esque madness that gave the auteur total reign over the titular character and all the toys of the MCU. Suggesting the existence of a Tom Cruise cameo as Iron Man, as well as a return of Ioan Gruffudd as Mr. Fantastic and even the appearance of a brand new Wolverine, Marvel fans were getting prepared for one of the most exciting superhero team-up movies of all time. 

Back in late 2021, however, it was publicised that early internal test screenings for the film had gone down very badly, with The Hollywood Reporter stating that “significant” reshoots for the film were underway where “Cumberbatch and company are undertaking six weeks of shooting, if not more, working six days a week”. 

With the Doctor Strange sequel having now been released to the general public, it’s quite clear that these reshoots were to soothe the ‘madness’ that Sam Raimi had put together, with the many hands of the Disney executives once again meddling where their influence isn’t wanted. Instead, the film that should’ve been the most rebellious in the modern canon proved to be one of the tamest, whipped into line to appear as straight and narrow-minded as the rest of the MCU.

For a company that has such a monopoly over modern cinema, it’s a sad shame that they feel like they cannot take any risks, despite having modern audiences in the very palm of their hands. Though with franchise fatigue setting in and the transparency of Disney’s business model shimmering in plain sight, the question is, for how much longer are audiences willing to stick around?

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