Welcome to Kamar-Taj, a reclusive colony hidden away in Nepal that’s home to students of the mystic arts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s no Hogwarts, but it’s where Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) learns how to wield magic and become the Sorcerer Supreme in Doctor Strange, out in theaters this November 4th.
Production designer Charles Wood tapped into Nepalese architecture when designing the temples, and a quick exploration of the set reveals shrines, libraries, training grounds, and ancient symbols and hieroglyphics inspired by the culture.
When fledgling sorcerers arrive, they come as Novices, the lowest rank at Kamar-Taj marked by white robes. Through training, they rise to Apprentice (red) and then Disciple (blue). Brother Drumm (a character known as Brother Voodoo in the comics) and Nina Minoru (a name from The Runaways story arc) both appear in the film among the student body, if you will. However, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige says only Drumm is mentioned by name.
In any case, the most influential characters surrounding Strange will be the Masters, the highest-ranking sorcerers in charge of protecting the mystical artifacts at Kamar-Taj and mentoring those with magical affinity. Fandango joined a group of journalists on the set of Doctor Strange in London last year and learned firsthand what it takes to master the mystic arts. Here’s what you need to know about the tools of the trade and the trainers of Kamar-Taj.
* Sling Rings: Once sorcerers-in-training surpasses a certain level, they receive Sling Rings. These mystical objects look like Tibetan brass knuckles, but in reality they allow the magicians to open portals through which they instantly travel great distances. Each is unique and reflective of the sorcerer who wields it.
* The Cloak of Levitation: As the name suggests, this sartorial item allows Strange to fly — but there’s more to it. “The cloak is sentient, so it has its own character,” costume designer Alexandra Byrne said. “You want something that has an amazing sense of history, antiquity and that is a relic in itself.”
Is that an Infinity Stone? ““If you’re tracking such things, perhaps.” — Kevin Feige
* The Eye of Agamotto: Strange’s most powerful possession is the Eye. The true extent of its abilities is unknown at the moment, but Feige previously teased an ability to “screw with time.” Many fans already speculated this could be an Infinity Stone. If you ask Feige if the film features one, he says, “If you’re tracking such things, perhaps.”
* Sanctum Sanctorum: When there’s something Strange in the neighborhood, superheroes head for the Doctor’s home at 177A Bleaker Street in Manhattan. The New York-based Sanctum Sanctorum is filled with magical objects and tomes, but it’s also a space where dimensions blur. Wood explained, “You could walk down a corridor in our New York sanctum, open a door and just go into something that is completely bonkers.”
The Ancient One
The Ancient One, a.k.a. the Sorcerer Supreme, is a title — a title passed through the ages to the most powerful sorcerer of the age. This current iteration of the character happens to be a woman. She’s a Celtic sorceress who summons magical fans as signature weapons. The Ancient One takes a special interest in Strange because, as actress Tilda Swinton put it, she “needs a successor, or certainly needs — you could say — a son.”
No stranger to fantastical roles, she explained “I’m really interested in the idea of long, long life and transformation and immortality. So yeah, I’m very much drawn to these stories. This is a huge, great story about the possibility of living beyond everything, living beyond mortality, living beyond all the immortal confines, living beyond the planet as we know it. It’s mind-blowingly no limits, and I think this is going to be something else.”
Jeremy Woodhead, who helped transform Swinton into Mason in Snowpiercer, also helped transform her into the Ancient One. “It certainly centers everything, because we’re making shapes and these shapes are pretty rocking, they’re all pretty graphic,” the actress said of her shaved head. “We’re filling a big universe, and so the look and the sort of plasticity of us is really important to us when we’re striking poses here.”
In the comics, Baron Mordo is a classic adversary of Doctor Strange. In the film, he’s more of a confidante and instructor — at least for now.
Played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mordo is the first one to recognize the potential in Strange and initially convinces the Ancient One to allow him into Kamar-Taj, but 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,” the actor said.
Ejiofor found the comics a great source for understanding Mordo’s relationship with the Ancient One and Kamar-Taj, but felt “he’s much purer” than this “jealousy entity.” Said the actor, “Kamar-Taj, what it means and what it means to Mordo, is so strong and his defense of it is so deep and his loyalty is so committed to the ideas of Kamar-Taj…and to the Ancient One that he would react to any perceived threat, but it wouldn’t come from a place of envy but from a place of protection and loyalty.”
Feige said they wanted to divert the character from his comic book origins, which is why they cast Ejiofor, “someone who had sort of unbelievable authenticity in delivering a lot of wackadoo lines and exposition.”
Benedict Wong’s presence was a little confusing — not only does he share a first name with Benedict Cumberbatch, but his last name also happens to be his character in the film.
Wong is a high-ranking sorcerer at Kamar-Taj who instructs the less-experienced disciples, but his main task is keeping watch over the relics and books — one of which features an Easter egg in the form of a Dread symbol, pertaining to the infamous demon Dormammu. It’s in this library where he and Strange have the most interactions, and it’s there where Wong sees the fledgling sorcerer’s talent emerge.
In describing his character, Wong said, “He’s very serious about what he’s doing because…it’s like a huge door that these extra-dimensional forces are now battering through and there is a fight that no one is really seeing. So I think there’s a real importance about, in terms of his training and the importance of that everybody is prepped, really. So there is a seriousness about him.”
With so many sorcerers roaming the realms of Doctor Strange, Christine Palmer is our human anchor to the fantastical. During our visit to the set, Marvel was hesitant to comment on the rumors that Rachel McAdams would be playing one of the famous Night Nurses from the comics, but we can confirm your suspicions were correct.
In the comics, Christine was one of three characters initially created for the Night Nurse series: along with Linda Carter and Georgia Jenkins, she encountered “danger, drama, and death.” In the film, she’ll be seen as a fellow surgeon working alongside Strange in the beginning of the film.
“We wanted a character that was a connection to Strange’s life in New York City, in the normal world,” Feige explained. “Somebody that could be his anchor to the real world, to his present in the beginning of the film, and by the time he reencounters her, wearing that [costume], someone who can comment on his transformation as a character.”
Since the film is merely introduction to Marvel magic, Feige didn’t want to “throw the kitchen sink and everything in the first movie.” He said, “The superpowered girlfriend for Strange wasn’t in the first [comic book] issue. There’s a lot of backstory required for her, which is one of the reasons we didn’t go that way. There’s so much to set up in this.”
Doctor Strange opens in theaters on November 4th.