This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
This article contains spoilers for Doctor Strange and the wider MCU.
The slightly unfortunate thing about the magical corner of the Marvel Universe is that it’s really very silly, but that also just so happens to be what totally rocks about it. One of the biggest triumphs of Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange is that you can genuinely manage to forget it’s so incredibly silly fairly early on, which is pretty much a miracle when the movie kicks off by giving us a glimpse of the mystical world in the form of a bald Tilda Swinton having some kind of magical glowing fan fight up the side of a rolling Inception building with fandom’s most precious Hannibal Lecter.
Re-watching the film, it’s key that we’re forced to flip straight from that silliness into a rather by-the-numbers origin story for Stephen Strange, the man who is soon to become the new Sorcerer Supreme. When we say “by-the-numbers,” we mean for the MCU itself, as Strange’s evolution initially hits many of the same narrative beats as Jon Favreau’s first Iron Man movie. So many, in fact, that at the time it felt like we were being slyly introduced to a natural replacement for Tony Stark in Benedict Cumberbatch’s cunning wizard.
To that end, we meet a wealthy, arrogant and painfully intelligent man heading towards a very special midlife crisis. Famous in his field, and wilfully ignorant of his weary love interest’s endless patience for his egotistical nonsense, our man is about to find himself the victim of a sudden and violent event. One that he, damaged and broken in a way that doesn’t seem fixable by modern means, will desperately try to find a solution for with the help of an older, wiser individual who may just have a few life lessons for him, and who may also inspire him to be better in ways he never thought possible – that is, before they utter a few iconic words and croak, leaving our new hero with some decisions to make about how he conducts himself in the future. But enough about Iron Man, bdm’tsh!
Derrickson, along with writers Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill, had plenty of delightful choices to make with Marvel’s first central mystical character, and the film is filled to the brim with enough brilliant visual touches to make any Steve Ditko fan happy, while also managing to take a step up with some general weirdness that makes it stand out in the MCU crowd rather significantly – Strange’s journey through the dimensions when he first arrives at Kamar-Taj, the face-off with Kaecilius and his minions as they exhaustively belt through a Sanctum under siege and into Strange’s old workplace, and a time-bending fight in the middle of a crumbling Hong Kong are the stand-out set pieces here, but the film, just like any sorcerer worth his weight in magic, has one final trick up its sleeve.
Instead of Strange finding a way to stop the Dark Dimension engulfing Earth on the ground in a less personal final showdown, we get to see how much more power he has at his fingertips than Tony Stark, and how much further he’s willing to go. The man is wearing an Infinity Stone as a rather fetching necklace, for God’s sake, and he’s just starting to realize how much of an advantage it is when you’re the sort of Sherlockian character who can think several chess moves ahead of the average Joe. It’s here that Doctor Strange most embraces the essential vibe of the comics, especially the early Strange of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Strange Tales.
Flying into the belly of the beast, Strange uses the Time Stone to trick Dormammu, the all-consuming ruler of the Dark Dimension, into a time loop that proves too irritating and exhausting for even an immortal being to cope with, and saves the world from assured destruction by putting his own life on the line, over and over and over and over and over again.
It’s a bit of an understated masterstroke from Derrickson and co, ensuring that we leave the film knowing that, as similar as Stephen and Tony first appear, Strange is on another level entirely. For all the weapons and fists and God-like powers in the MCU, the crafty magic of mystical Marvel may ultimately prove to be crucial in the endgame.
It’s all connected: The scene where Strange first discovers he can turn back time with the Eye of Agamotto still packs a punch. Even a tiny action like transforming an apple core back into its original, ripe form had huge ramifications for the MCU, as it was a moment that ensured the discovery of an intriguing prospect – that time travel in this universe is very dangerous, but very possible.
It sets up a few key events in Infinity War, including Strange’s quick visit to 14 million possible futures, and Vision being pulled back from “death by Scarlet Witch” only to have the Mind Stone wrenched from his forehead, allowing Thanos to act out his devastating Snap. The Time Stone, now part of Thanos’ gauntlet, will return in Avengers: Endgame – what part will it play in the resolution of the saga?
Avengers Tower is seen in the background during some of Doctor Strange’s New York scenes. There have been some timeline questions over when this film takes place, as Strange is first referenced as being under surveillance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Feige and co have dismissed this notable inclusion as being because of the Doctor’s prominent surgical expertise, but no one is buying it tbh.
Stan Lee’s obligatory cameo finds him reading Aldous Huxley’s Doors Of Perception, a nod to the trippy history of the character in his early comic book appearances.
Best quip: “Yeah, you know, you really should have stolen the whole book because the warnings… The warnings come after the spells,” Strange remarks after dispatching Kaecilius, trying his hand at a call-back that falls utterly flat. Still, at least he finally makes Wong laugh.
Ah, and let’s hear it for the Cloak of Levitation, doing a bang-up job of improving every scene it’s in without uttering a single word.
First appearances: It’s a first appearance for everyone in Doctor Strange, apart from you-know-who in the end credits! But, along with Stephen, the immediately lovable Wong will return in Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
So long, farewell: The Ancient One, we hardly knew ye – Bald Tilda is older than she looks, and her time is up. We also witness Kaecilius and his minions fly off to the Dark Dimension, but are they really gone for good? No one would be Mads about a surprise return from Mr. Mikkelsen, surely?
Credit check: In the mid-credits scene, we get a nice set-up for Thor: Ragnarok, as the God of Thunder visits a clearly more advanced Doctor Strange, wondering if he can maybe help him find his missing father, Odin. This scene was shot by Ragnarok director Taika Waititi, and appears in full in that very film.
In the end credits scene, Mordo finally becomes much more like his villainous comics incarnation, as he starts lifting powers off other sorcerers of note.
What are your thoughts on Doctor Strange? Have we missed your favorite moment or reference? Let us know in the comments below…