Marvel’s next film is Captain America: Civil War, which is bound to shake things up for the main gaggle of Avengers. It’s not the only Marvel film we’ll be seeing this year, though – we’ll also get the first MCU Doctor Strange movie, which is set to reach UK screens on 28th October and American cinemas on 4th November.
Horror guru Scott Derrickson – he of Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil and the 2008 The Day The Earth Stood Still vintage – is directing, from a script credited to C. Robert Cargill (Sinister, Sinister 2), Thomas Dean Donnelly (Sahara, 2011’s Conan The Barbarian), Joshua Oppenheimer (the same as Mr Donnelly) and Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour, Prometheus).
They’ll introduce us to Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange (who was namedropped already in Captain America: The Winter Soldier as a ‘threat to HYDRA’), as played by the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch. Here’s what to expect from this exciting new MCU hero, and the rest of the movie…
Doctor Strange origins – the basics
Stephen Strange is an arrogant New York surgeon who goes on to become the Sorcerer Supreme of Planet Earth, after a car accident injures his hands to the point that he could no longer perform surgery. In the comics he gained much power and respect, but he never lost his snarky attitude.
After the injury, Strange would perform shady back alley procedures in order to fund his alcoholism. He had already splurged his sizeable fortune on failed treatments for his shaky hands.
After hearing tell of a powerful mystic known as The Ancient One (set to be gender-swapped and played by Tilda Swinton in the movie), Strange pawned his remaining possessions and flew east to Tibet. The Ancient One refused to heal him, but instead offered him mystical training.
Strange was a sceptic, and initially refused the offer. However, upon seeing The Ancient One’s apprentice Baron Mordo (a role that Chiwetel Ejiofor will tackle on the big screen) attempting to kill his master using magically summoned skeletons, Strange accepted the offer. Mordo and Strange would develop a rivalry for the ages, with the former becoming a full-blown super villain and the latter Earth’s primary protector from mystical forces and evil from other dimensions.
It’s also worth noting that Stephen Strange’s youth was no picnic. He was a target for mystical attacks throughout his upbringing in Nebraska, due to the fact that Mordo already knew that Stephen was destined to become Sorcerer Supreme instead of him. These demonic attacks could well play a part in the film via establishing scenes or childhood flashbacks that the adult Stephen can’t make sense of.
Marvel’s Kevin Feige recently told Empire about his belief that Cumberbatch is the perfect actor to guide us on this rollercoaster from arrogant surgeon to Sorcerer Supreme. “You can go to the highest heights and lowest lows with him and he won’t lose you,” Feige promised. He also describe the car crash of the movie as “horrible”.
Doctor Strange settings – a whole new world(s)
One of the Doctor Strange movie’s biggest jobs is to introduce the idea of alternate realms and dimensions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We’ve visited outer space settings in the MCU loads of times, and we’ve even seen the microverse of The Quantum Realm thanks to Ant-Man, but we’ve never witnessed the planes of existence that Stephen Strange frequents.
In his tutelage under The Ancient One, Stephen Strange learned how to transcend dimensional barriers. Alternate dimensions tend to be freaky places, and can provide convenient ways to trap a baddie or keep a fight away from civilians. The image above – courtesy of Entertainment Weekly – is official concept art, which suggests how Marvel Studios may present an alternate dimension in the movie.
The Dark Dimension is one that frequently pops up in the comics. It’s a mystic realm – comprised of multiple pocket universes – where villains often dwell and Strange is regularly summoned for battles. Kevin Feige told Empire recently confirmed that we will “see glimpses of something called the Dark Dimension” in the film.
He elaborated, saying that “if you were to open a Doctor Strange comic drawn by Steve Ditko, you would see the Dark Dimension is, in fact, very colourful in an extremely psychedelic way. Those are the things we’re not shying away from.”
Many extra-dimensional settings within Marvel Comics lore fit a sort of template. They’re not the same as our world, they’re brightly coloured, and they’re are an easy way for writers to avoid spending ages explaining a complicated Earthly origin story of mystic baddies. “I come from the [insert scary name here] Dimension and I’ve come to kill you!” is much easier.
Equally, Marvel Comics also have a history of alternate universes that closely resemble the main continuity. One of the most prominent of these was the Ultimate universe, where Peter Parker died and Mile Morales took up the mantle of Spider-Man. Or, more recently, Earth-65, where Gwen Stacy became Spider-Woman for the same reason.
Don’t get too attached to that kind of idea, though, because Stephen Strange is traditionally more into oddball alternate dimensions with funky colour palettes than parallel universes only slightly different to the main one. We’d fully expect the first Doctor Strange movie to dabble in spooky dimensions, allowing Mr Derrickson’s horror experience to come in handy.
The Sanctum Sanctorum – pictured above – is another setting you’ll want to prepare yourself for. Located in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village, this trendy homestead is Strange’s base of operations. It’s said to be built on the site of Native American rituals and/or Pagan Sacrifices. Either way, it’s charged with supernatural energies that are useful to the Sorcerer Supreme.
Doctor Strange powers – Domo Arigato, Eye Of Agamotto
Doctor Strange’s abilities are worth explaining, too, to get you primed for the movie. Strange draws his abilities from The Eye Of Agamotto – which he wears around his neck within an amulet – and a range of other magic artefacts (these also have funky names, including Cyttorak, Ikonn, Oshtur, Raggadorr, and Watoomb.)
Of these, we can say fairly surely that the Eye Of Agamotto will appear in the movie, because Benedict Cumberbatch has been snapped wearing an amulet in a widely-shared photo (see above). Items like this lend Strange the necessary magical energy to cast spells.
Over the years, Strange has mastered invisibility, telepathy, transmutation, telekinesis, time manipulation, banishing people to alternate dimensions, and the conjuring of weapons, shields and bolts of energy. He can fly, too, but often uses a Cape Of Levitation to achieve this. (Maybe casting spells all the time gets a bit tiresome.)
Strange can also use ‘astral projection’ to project an avatar of himself. This comes in handy when he’s out of the office or needs to be in two places at once. He uses this ability rather a lot in the comics, often to the chagrin of other heroes who’d rather talk to the ‘real’ Strange.
Perhaps most impressively, Doctor Strange has an extended lifespan as well. He’s capable of dying, but doesn’t fear it, having won a battle with Marvel’s version of Death itself (essentially a female Grim Reaper). He can’t contract any regular diseases, either.
It remains to be seen quite how many of these abilities the first Doctor Strange movie will present us with. If Strange possesses the whole lot from the start, he’ll probably come across as overly powerful and not very relatable. As the movie is believed to cover origin beats, then, we’d expect only a handful of these abilities to make an appearance.
We’ll update this section as we hear more about Strange’s filmic abilities.
Doctor Strange cast and characters – The Ancient One (and a few other ones)
As we’ve mentioned already, Tilda Swinton (picture above in her Narnia garb) has been cast as The Ancient One – the mystical mentor to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange. Judging by some set photos that have done the rounds, it appears that she’ll be based in a far-off locale as per the comics. We’d expect her to dole advice and wisdom incessantly, and to act as a foil to Strange’s oft-sarcastic attitude.
You’ve also got Chiwetel Ejiofor, playing The Ancient One’s former pupil and Strange’s main rival Baron Mordo. He may not be the biggest villain of the film, though, as Madds Mikkelsen has been cast in a nefarious role too. His character hasn’t been named yet, but has been described as “a sorcerer who breaks off into his own sect.”
Rachel McAdams has also nabbed a role. She’ll play an unnamed former colleague of Strange’s from his surgeon days. She’ll serve as a “lynchpin to his old life, once he steps into the role of a sorcerer,” we’re told.
Some have been speculating that McAdams may end up as a version of the comic books’ Night Nurse character that runs a surgery for injured heroes and develops a romantic relationship with Strange at one stage. That could explain why Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple character from Daredevil has never officially been given that nickname over on Netflix, despite obvious similarities.
Michael Stuhlbarg (who played Griff in Men In Black 3 and Andy Hertzfeld in last year’s Steve Jobs movie) has also been cast, as a rival scientist to Strange called Nicodemus West. In the comics, West performed the surgery that failed to save Strange’s hands and eventually tried to learn about magical healing techniques.
Benedict Wong – recently seen rushing to meet a deadline in The Martian – has been cast as Doctor Strange’s trusty sidekick Wong. In the comics, this Chinese martial arts master/monk was assigned to protect/valet for Strange by The Ancient One.
Amy Landecker from Transparent and Scott Adkins (seen in the Undisputed series and The Expendables 2, known for his martial arts skills) have also been cast in Doctor Strange. We don’t know anything about their characters yet, but we’ll let you know as soon as we do.
Doctor Strange in the MCU – potential for crossovers
In the comics, Stephen Strange kept his life as the Sorcerer Supreme quiet for quite some time. He didn’t initially want to align with New York’s burgeoning superhero community, but eventually found himself teaming up with Spider-Man to save some folk from a horrific alternate dimension. Over the years since his introduction in 1963, he’s become a more of a team player.
Since S.H.I.E.L.D./HYDRA Agent Sitwell seemed to know about Stephen Strange already during The Winter Soldier, there’s a good chance he might have a similar arc in the MCU. Perhaps he’s been knocking around with powers for long enough for HYDRA to see him as a threat, but hasn’t yet been drawn into the various superhero conflicts the plague New York.
We’d expect that to change, and for Strange to eventually pop up in Avengers movies and other crossover instalments of Marvel’s sprawling mega-franchise. They may choose to keep him separate for the first Doctor Strange movie, though, to make sure enough time is allotted to establishing the concepts of magic, alternate dimensions, demons and the like.
Saying that, we could be wrong. Doctor Strange could well be stuffed with cameos and familiar faces. At this stage, we don’t know. This being Marvel, you can expect some form of teasing post-credits sting at the very least.
So, that’s everything you can expect from Doctor Strange at the moment. An arrogant surgeon will gain great power, and we’ll be introduced to his mentor, his greatest rival and at least one other villain. Magic and alternate dimensions will play a hefty role. But most importantly – the mighty Benedict Cumberbatch will join the MCU…
Want to place bets on how long it’ll take him to bump into Martin Freeman?
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