Marvel goes mystical in Doctor Strange and continues to wow us – this time with visual sorcery.
We’ve yet to see a truly visually groundbreaking Marvel film in the fourteen released. Until now. Doctor Strange is easily the most visually arresting and awe-inspiring entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. But what about outside the realms of the MCU you ask? It’s still one of the most mind-bending and visually creative films in the last few years.
Doctor Strange is the story of world-famous neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange, whose life changes forever after a horrific car accident robs him of the use of his hands. When traditional medicine fails him, he is forced to look for healing, and hope, in an unlikely place – a mysterious enclave known as Kamar-Taj. He quickly learns that this is not just a center for healing but also the front line of a battle against unseen dark forces bent on destroying our reality. Before long Strange – armed with newly acquired magical powers – is forced to choose whether to return to his life of fortune and status or leave it all behind to defend the world as the most powerful sorcerer in existence.
This origin story and heroes journey archetype is one of the better versions I’ve seen from a first entry in a series. Thankfully, this doesn’t stop the pace that director Scott Derickson masterfully creates when showing us a man so consumed with himself that he throws all his money away and is even mean to Rachel McAdams. How is that even possible?
As the second entry in Marvel’s Phase 3 after this summer’s Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange manages to move past the science and into the full blown realm of mysticism. Comic Creator Steve Ditko’s artwork comes to life on-screen unlike anything we’ve seen. There’s the astral plane and mystic realms, sorcerers fighting alongside and inside and on top of buildings that are constantly moving within the Mirror Dimension, and a battle near the end that takes place as a spell turns back time and all of its elements along with it. The result is trippy and bizarre and completely fun to view from every square inch of the frame.
However, it’s more than just the astral plane visuals, it’s the overall look of the film as well.
Marvel has been criticized for having too consistent of a visual palette for their films. Doctor Strange breaks this mold more than any other Marvel film. It’s colder looking and more sterile when it needs to be, specifically in the earlier scenes with Dr. Strange as a practicing neurosurgeon. But once he enters the land of the Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu, there is more warmth and richer colors and the vibrant mystical effects of the Eldritch light. Filming on location in Kathmandu, New York, London, and Hong Kong is surely an aid in the look as well. This is a big movie that feels like it’s small at times, but only because of how personal and specific the problems for Dr. Strange are. Sure, there’s a potential world threatening thing by the Dark Dimensional Dormammu from a violent and hostile alternate dimension that exists outside any known human concept of life, death, time and morality. The Dark Dimension does not intersect with our own plane of existence, but it’s not really important.
Producer Kevin Feige gives some insight saying,
This is a mind-trip that rivals any cinematic mind-trip that has ever been done before. Steve Ditko is one of the greatest Marvel artists in history, and it’s amazing that we’re now able to take what he did in the mid-’60s—these trippy comic panels and comic covers—and put those into big three-dimensional space on a movie screen. What it really does is give a Matrix/Inception/Miyazaki–style mind-bending trip to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We’ve translated it into an action sequence and a giant blockbuster film.
And Benedict Cumberbatch offers,
There’s a lot of real- world live action in this film. There’s a lot of drama, a lot of comedy. But there’s also the most extraordinary, fantastical adventure and madcappery, which Marvel gets better and better at with every single film. The importance of the environments and the context and the action in those environments has never been richer. It’s going to be a great cinematic ride.
We couldn’t describe it better ourselves, but let me also add that the cast is all top notch. Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, and Tilda Swinton all embrace the bizarre material and effortlessly move between the dramatic moments to the reality-altering dimensional action scenes and the perfectly timed doses of humor. The cast only makes the spectacle all the more impressive and helps to absorb your own astral plane. The balancing act of all of this is a huge achievement and will steadily grow even more so with time.
The way the characters interact in human ways, and grow, and learn is what’s exciting to watch. Seeing Dr. Stephen Strange transform from an arrogant self-centered man into the master of mysticism in a natural way is great storytelling. Doctor Strange could stand on its own and not be considered part of the greater Marvel canon if not for a few sly mentions that most might not even catch. Among those are: seeing Avengers Tower in the New York skyline, before Dr. Strange crashes his car he’s asked to consider taking on an injured military vet with spinal issues (aka James Rhodes aka War Machine), and then there’s the revelation of one of those ever elusive Infinity Stones. There’s one mention of the Avengers by name, but it’s done so organically and not Iron Man 2’d in. This continues to build upon the universe that the House of Ideas has brought us and honestly gets better every movie.
Doctor Strange is a stellar entry in the MCU and a great movie to see in the theaters because it’s a spectacle for your eyes aided by great characters and story. Out in theaters today, I recommend you see it on the biggest screen possible and in 3D as well.
Post Credits Info | No Spoilers
There is a mid-credits scene that involves a cameo of a certain person that was missing from the Civil War. It’s informative, funny, and as always has us more excited than ever to see the next Marvel movie.
There’s also a scene after the final credits that is more of a foreshadowing of what will happen in the eventual Doctor Strange sequel, and yes, we see a “Doctor Strange will return” title afterwards.