Report: Why we still haven't heard who'll play Doctor Strange

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Aug 28, 2014, 6:33 PM EDT (Updated)

A little more than a month ago, as Marvel Studios geared up for its annual Hall H presentation at San Diego Comic-Con, we were all pretty convinced we were about to get some major Doctor Strange news. Marvel had already announced the film's director, Scott Derrickson, in June, and as rumors that Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix would take the title role heated up the day before the panel, we expected something big.

Well, the panel came and went, and nothing happened. Since then we've heard nothing but more rumors about who exactly Marvel wants for the film, including recent whispers that Boardwalk Empire star Jack Huston was up for the lead. Though we don't know exactly when the film will hit theaters, we know a director is already attached, which almost certainly means the release can't be all that far off. So why hasn't Stephen Strange himself been cast?

Earlier today, Collider reported that Phoenix is now in "final talks" to join Doctor Strange as the Sorcerer Supreme, noting that his Marvel contract is "at the 1 yard line, about to pass into the endzone." As for what's taking so long, Collider's report attributed the delay to Phoenix's desire to make his Marvel contract as flexible as possible, so he can continue work on other films. Badass Digest's Devin Faraci then reported via Twitter that Phoenix did indeed meet with Marvel sometime this week, but that there was still a chance he'd back away from a Doctor Strange commitment. Latino Review's Umberto Gonzalez backed up that report shortly thereafter, tweeting that he'd heard directly from Phoenix's representatives, and that there was "lots still to work out." Though there's some dispute as to how close a final deal is, all three outlets seem to be in agreement that Phoenix is the guy Marvel wants. Now the question is: Why hasn't the superhero juggernaut been able to lock Phoenix down yet?

In a Badass Digest post expanding on his tweets from earlier today, Faraci reported that Marvel was indeed pursuing Phoenix in July, not just to be Doctor Strange, but to make his debut as a Marvel Studios star during the Hall H panel. They were hoping to seal the deal with him that very day and get him to walk out on the stage that night (think of the eruption in that hall if it had happened), but they just couldn't make it work in time. Ever since the Phoenix reports first surfaced, we've been talking about the multipicture demands Marvel makes on its actors as a major obstacle between him and joining this film, but according to Faraci, the uncertainty might run deeper. This might not just be a case of Phoenix shying from a long-term commitment to one character. It might be that he's simply not sure if he can adapt to the FX-heavy demands of this kind of blockbuster.

"He's a great actor, and he can play the role. But the Marvel Studios blockbuster machine is full of pre-viz and fight-viz and green screen and massive reshoots. It's not a world that's as comfortable for him, and he's just not certain he can do it," Faraci said. "And I kind of think this is a terrific piece of self-awareness, and a piece of self-awareness that might keep the deal from closing. If Marvel can get past any issues Phoenix has with the larger contract they still have to get over the doubt this terrific actor has about working in this larger environment."

So, it seems the difficulty could lie beyond Phoenix's reluctance to sign on for multiple movies. It could be that his biggest concern is not being able to work on whatever else he wants, but being able to work on these films -- with all of the unique acting challenges they present -- while remaining at the top of his game. That's an admirable thing to be concerned about, but as Faraci notes, it may also be the thing that ultimately keeps Phoenix from this project.

What do you think? Will Joaquin Phoenix eventually be our Doctor Strange?