Doctor Strange is not your typical Marvel movie, and that’s because it doesn’t have a typical hero. To better understand Marvel’s latest superhero, Fandango traveled to the London set of Doctor Strange last year to witness the magic firsthand.
In one scene we saw filmed, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is about to freeze to death on the side of Mount Everest. How did he get there? It’s unclear, but it’s a scene ripped from the 2007 animated film. His mystical mentor the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) appears in spirit form to see if he can set aside his disbelief in magic and save himself.
Obviously, he can. Mustering the last of his strength and focus, he summons a swirling, shimmering vortex that carries him to safety. As he hobbles through and collapses at her feet, the Ancient One jokes, “That’s our boy.”
Much like Ant-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy before their films hit theaters, Doctor Strange isn’t as well known as, say, Captain America or Iron Man. But the main gist is that, while most of the Avengers’ abilities are based in science, Strange is a sorcerer — meaning his powers are rooted in magic.
Who Is Doctor Strange?
Dr. Stephen Strange is an acclaimed, world-renowned neurosurgeon living in New York City, and the size of his ego matches his level of success. “What he thinks he was doing as a neurosurgeon — that was good because it benefited people’s health — was really just a furtherment [sic] of his attempts to control death and control his own fate and other people’s, but that’s still driven by the ego,” the actor explained.
After a tragic car crash, Strange’s career comes to an abrupt end as he loses the use of his hands from the sustained injuries. He goes from “completely in control of his life” to “obsessed with healing himself,” Cumberbatch says, “not realizing that really healing is something beyond just becoming what he used to be, that he needs to foster something that he has within him.”
Strange’s journey eventually leads him to Nepal, where he discovers Kamar-Taj, a training ground for sorcerers under the instruction of the Ancient One. Along with her disciple Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the sorceress helps train Strange to become the Sorcerer Supreme, the most powerful magician on Earth.
“I’ve never done a lead role in a film this big, in a franchise this big,” Cumberbatch said on why he wanted the role. “One of the reasons was, I wanted to know what the toy box was like. And it’s just insane, the amount of facility that everyone gets, but the amount of artistry and craft that’s brought to every aspect of filmmaking.”
How Does Magic Work in the Marvel World?
We’ve seen the Harry Potters and the Gandalfs, so the biggest visual challenge became introducing magic in a way moviegoers have never seen. The answer was something comic fans know well: the multiverse.
“We wanted to tap into this notion of the multiverse, of dimensions right next to our own,” Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige said, “and if you were able to tap into those dimensions, and those other powers, and what could you do if you pulled aspects of those other dimensions into our realm?”
Some of these dimensions include the ones already spotted in the trailers — such as the Inception-esque bending of New York City. The creative team decided upon four main action sequences after considering which of these realms to pull from “to screw with our world.” The results were “an action scene totally different than anything we’ve ever done before.”
As Feige pointed out, “There are a couple of lines in Thor basically saying that science and magic — it gets to a point where what’s the difference, and I think we’re continuing that.” He added, “Whether you’re looking at the ancient study of acupuncture pressure points or you’re looking an MRI – [the Ancient One’s] trying to say we’re talking about the same things here,” Feige said. “If you’re not comfortable with the word ‘spells,’ let’s use the word ‘program.’”
Who Is the Villain of Doctor Strange?
For someone as fantastical as Doctor Strange, Marvel needed an equally fantastical villain. Enter Kaecilius, played by Hannibal and Rogue One actor Mads Mikkelsen.
Kaecilius is a former disciple of the Ancient One who defected with his followers (called “zealots”). “They believe the Ancient One is not being truthful in the way that she is teaching magic,” Feige said. “They believe she is withholding secrets that should not be withheld, and think that maybe it’s not a bad thing if other dimensions absorb our reality. In fact, that could lead to benefits such as immortality. They may also lead to destroying the entire world as we know it, but it is definitely a philosophical break that he has from the rest of the sorcerers that is his primary angst over the course of the movie.”
“My favorite thing about [Kaecilius] is he is a man of ideas,” director Scott Derrickson said, “and that’s to me what always is compelling about villains. I am much more interested in how they think than in what they even do.”
In true Marvel fashion, there may be a secret villain hiding in the shadows, as well. The director explained he wanted a villain “rooted in the real” to offer “an intimate relatability” to Strange, but who was also “empowered by something else, by something otherworldly.” This something, he said, “comes straight from the comics” and is comparable to “the Sauron-Saruman idea in Lord of the Rings.” He added, “We do more than that with this other-dimensional power.”
While he never gave a name, it sounds like Strange’s most famous adversary: the demon Dormammu. Previously rumored to appear in the film, the malevolent being resides within the Dark Dimension (a realm that Feige mentioned specifically) and is constantly trying to spread his chaos to our reality. While there’s another reference to Dormammu, we’ll have to wait and see if the theory is correct.
How Does Doctor Strange Fit with the Other Marvel Movies?
Feige said, “If you didn’t know this movie was connected to 13 movies before it, nothing in this movie would indicate that was the case.” That said, eagle-eyed (and eared) Marvel fans have already heard the name Stephen Strange uttered in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, while Ant-Man introduced one of these alternate dimensions (the Quantum Realm).
Elsewhere, Feige confirmed that there’s some connection between what Scarlet Witch can do and what the sorcerers can do. “She’s never had any training. She’s figuring it out,” he said. “Arguably you could say that’s why her powers are much more chaotic, much more loose in the way that we showcase those light effects. In this film… it’s all about focus, it’s about pulling energies from other dimensions in an organized and purposeful fashion, which is why they can do a lot more than she can — at least in a much more precise way.”
Strange, however, doesn’t talk about the Avengers all that much. “One would imagine that anyone living in New York was aware of what had occurred in various instances,” Feige said, “but like in our real life, people go about their daily business, their job, and his job is to be the best neurosurgeon and to take the best cases and to get the most attention and to get the most accolades and that’s what he’s focused on until his accident.”
The sorcerers, too, haven’t interfered with, say, the invasion of New York in The Avengers because they have bigger fish to fry. As defenders from extra-dimensional threats, “They’re thinking if we don’t keep vigilant, our sense of reality will disappear, and there won’t be a bank to rob and there won’t be a city to be conquered,” Feige said.
So, what does this all mean for the future? The possibilities of what we might see seem endless. “I think when comic book fans hear parallel dimensions or multiple dimensions they think of Earth 616 and Earth 617 and Earth 618. That’s all possible,” Feige said, “but what we’re playing with in this world is there are dimensions – that the other dimensions are not just parallel realities, although some of them are.”
Doctor Strange will hit theaters on November 4.