Doctor Strange 2 Might Be Victim of Marvel Rights Issue

By Liam Crowley Posted:
Doctor Strange Multiverse of Madness Gargantos Benedict Cumberbatch

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is keeping most of its secrets close to the vest, but marketing material for Benedict Cumberbatch's second solo outing as Stephen Strange has already given fans a significant amount to speculate on. The first Multiverse of Madness trailer revealed the first glimpses at Xochitl Gomez's America Chavez and Elizabeth Olsen's Wanda Maximoff while also subtly hinting at the film's bigger narrative.

In short, the Multiverse is in chaos, and everyone from giant tentacled eyeball monsters to evil alter-egos of Strange himself are to blame.

Gargantos Doctor Strange Multiverse of Madness
Marvel Studios

Speaking further on the former, promotional pieces have put a big focus on Gargantos, the monster that Strange can be seen fighting in the teaser trailer. While Gargantos is not referenced by name in the footage, leaked toy sets have revealed the creature's identity. This is taking some by surprise, considering Gargantos largely operates as a minor antagonist in Namor comics.

Even more surprising is the fact that Gargantos's design, while true to the comics, closely resembles that of Shuma-Gorath. That alien octopus often stands opposite the Sorcerer Supreme in the comics while Shuma-Gorath is most prominently an antagonist of Doctor Strange on the page. Beyond that, early Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness rumors pointed to Shuma-Gorath factoring into the upcoming sequel.

With such a clear avenue to bring Shuma-Gorath into the fold, why opt for Gargantos instead? New speculation indicates this could be a matter of legality.

Is Gargantos Actually Shuma-Gorath In Doctor Strange 2?

While it may seem like all Marvel Comics characters are under the House of Mouse by now, some remain scattered across Hollywood.

As pointed out by ComicBook's Adam Barnhardt, Shuma-Gorath is a name taken from Robert E. Howard's 1967 short story "The Curse of the Golden Skull" that features Kull the Conqueror. Shuma-Gorath would make his Marvel Comics debut six years later as a Doctor Strange antagonist in 1973's Marvel Premiere #10.

Howard is responsible for writing numerous Conan the Barbarian stories, which Marvel regained the comics licensing rights to in 2018.

Shuma-Gorath Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics

That said, the live-action rights are more complicated. Barnhardt mentioned that as of September 2020, Netflix has the rights to Conan live-action and animation projects, and is currently developing a live-action series focused on the famed barbarian.

To make matters more complex, Universal Pictures distributed a Kull the Conqueror movie in 1997. Considering Shuma-Gorath was first introduced in a Kull story, that character's rights may still be tied up with Universal.

Shuma-Gorath Staying Out of Marvel Studios?

As if Doctor Strange didn't have enough headaches already.

Gargantos Namor Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics

Marvel Studios opting to use Gargantos instead of Shuma-Gorath makes sense from a legality standpoint. As Twitter user @WhatStrangeDays pointed out, Norweigan video game company Funcom "fully acquired" the rights to Conan the Barbarian in September 2021, which adds another piece to an already complicated rights puzzle.

In the past, Marvel Studios has executed trades to get characters they didn't have the rights to in their feature films. 2017's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was able to use Ego the Living Planet, a character under the 20th Century Fox banner at the time, by granting Fox permission to change Negasonic Teenage Warhead's powers in 2016's Deadpool, which director James Gunn confirmed in a 2016 tweet.

"Haha yes that’s true. I don’t think Fox knew what a big piece of the cosmic universe puzzle he was going to be (and I had no backup)."

Dealing with Robert E. Howard's universe makes trades highly unlikely, as most of Marvel's characters don't interact with anything Conan or Kull-related, making a swap unappealing for other studios.

The Namor Variable

Doctor Strange, namor

Interestingly enough, Namor rights were also under the Universal Pictures banner for over two decades. While Namor's rights are back with Marvel today, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has admitted that the Sub-Mariner's situation is "not as clean or clear" as most of the heroes in the MCU's sandbox.

With Namor heavily rumored to play a big role in this fall's Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, he may be in a similar situation as the Hulk.

While its mediocre box office performance and the departure of leading man Edward Norton are two major reasons 2008's The Incredible Hulk has not received a sequel, it really only boils down to rights. Universal Pictures still has the distribution rights to solo Hulk films, but Marvel Studios is free to use Bruce Banner in "future multicharacter films," which have included everything from all four Avengers films to 2017's Thor: Ragnarok.

A solo Namor project may be prevented due to similar reasoning to a Hulk standalone sequel, but given the character's likely appearance in Black Panther 2, there's reason to believe he's free to show face in "multicharacter films" just like Bruce Banner.

This logic extends to both Gargantos and Shuma-Gorath. Gargantos being under the same character library as Namor likely gives him the freedom to show up in projects that don't solely focus on him.

While Gargantos only factors two studios, which are two that have laid the groundwork for this kind of deal in the past, Shuma-Gorath is another beast. Beyond Universal Pictures, Marvel would have to potentially negotiate with Netflix, Funcom, and the Howard family. 

Doctor Strange 2 Reshoots Explained?

After conducting most of its principal photography in Winter 2020 into Spring 2021, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness returned for a six-week reshoot period in November 2021. Star Benedict Cumberbatch pointed to "logistics, COVID, etc" as the reason for the reshoots, but this Gargantos situation may also be a factor.

If Marvel Studios intended to use Shuma-Gorath in this film, they are not able to get around it by simply changing the character's name. In the comics, Gargantos largely operates as just a sea monster, while Shuma-Gorath is an ancient demon with supernatural powers. In order to avoid legal trouble, Doctor Strange 2's Gargantos would need to operate as its own entity with its own identity rather than just taking Shuma-Gorath's abilities and calling it a day.

This reshoot period may have also been an opportunity to refine Gargantos' character to ensure he acts distinctly enough from Shuma-Gorath. If Gargantos plays as big of a role in Doctor Strange 2 as Ego the Living Planet did in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Marvel Studios doesn't have a trade opportunity to clean up the legal situation, reshoots may have been the only option.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness brings Gargantos to the big screen on May 6, 2022.

- About The Author: Liam Crowley

MCU Writer, Editor, Podcaster