Months before Marvel's "Doctor Strange" was due in theaters, the film was already a target for controversy. Producers cast Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton in the role of the Ancient One -- a character historically portrayed as a male Tibetan sorcerer. Beyond that, the character of Wong -- played in the movie by Benedict Wong -- was used often as a racial stereotype in the early run of the comics dating back to the 1960s.
Those issues left a lot for Marvel to address with the film, which had to be modernized. After all, what passed as acceptable in 1960 doesn't necessarily fit the bill in 2016. For producer and Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, it's an issue he was keenly aware of from the moment they decided to pursue a "Doctor Strange" film.
When it came to Swinton being cast, Feige explains during a visit to the set of "Doctor Strange," "We talked about the Ancient One being a title that has been held probably for hundreds and hundreds of years by individuals, but there’ve been various ones, and the one we meet in this movie happens to be a female of Celtic descent, who most people, even those who surround her, have forgotten exactly where she came from because she’s been around -- I think we state in the movie hundreds and hundreds of years -- they’re not sure exactly how long."
"There are many graphic artists who have interpreted The Ancient One as a Tibetan Buddhist Lama, we’re kind of shifting that a bit," Swinton adds. "We’re trying not to be fixed, we’re trying not to be fixed to any one thing, any one gender, any one spiritual discipline and any one race even; we’re just trying to wing it beyond that. So it’s a new gesture really, just another interpretation."
"Wong is another thing all together, because there's, you know, it's a racial stereotype," director Scott Derrickson says. "I mean, let's be blunt about it."
Wong was originally portrayed as a manservant to Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). That's something the movie needed to change.
"He is not the assistant manservant. He was loyal in the books, and certainly fulfilled a purpose which I think could be one of the things you’re describing -- a stereotype going back to any number of white hero/Asian driver-servant," Feige says. "That is not his role in this movie at all."
Instead, Feige says, "Wong is a fellow warrior who has been a master in his own right." He also has a deeper understanding of the mystical world than Strange does.
"Wong is in our world now a master at Kamar-Taj, training the fellow disciples and sorcerers, and [he’s a] protector of the Sanctum relics and these ancient ritual books," Wong says. "It’s where we’ll see Wong and Doctor Strange come together and become, really, allies to fight against these extra-dimensional forces."
While the versions of Wong and the Ancient One seen in the movie will be very different from what was depicted in the comics, those aren't the only characters going through major changes.
Baron Mordo -- known to "Doctor Strange" fans as a supervillain -- is one of the good guys. In fact, Karl Mordo -- played by Chiwetel Ejiofor -- is one of the Ancient One's most-trusted former students.
"As long as Mordo has been here, the Ancient One has also – and well before," Ejiofor says. "There’s an enormous amount of respect and dedication to the cause and to the Ancient One specifically."
Of course, that doesn't mean there's not a hint at a villainous future in Mordo.
"I think that Mordo is the first to recognize the potential in Strange and becomes his primary advocate, initially," the actor continues. "Their relationship is complicated. In some ways they’re quite similar but that lends itself to tensions between them. But overall he is the tutor that really brings him in."
"We wanted to keep what were the interesting aspects of him, his relationship with The Ancient One, but the only way that Mordo, who needs to be a presence in the universe of Doctor Strange and God willing in sequels, I felt that we had to start by establishing who he was before he got into that arch villainy in the comics," Derrickson says. "And that's a lot of what we're doing in this movie ... is we're sort of building a foundational understanding of who he was before the guy that you met in that comic, so that that turn isn't an arc turn."
With so many changes being made to the source material, it's clear Marvel wants to evolve this franchise for a modern audience -- with an eye toward the future. Will it work out? There's really only one way to tell.
"Doctor Strange" is in theaters Nov. 4.