Now, I love seeing all the Avengers fighting robots and civil-warring as much as the next guy, but for the last couple of years it’s been Marvel‘s new properties that have stolen the spotlight. Last year’s Ant-Man was an absolute delight and 2014’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy blew us all away. So after experimenting with a superhero heist movie and a space opera, Marvel’s next big risk is diving headfirst into a world of psychedelic mysticism with the Benedict Cumberbatch-starring Doctor Strange.
We’ve been excited about this one for a long time, and with only a few weeks left before its release, The Reel Word was lucky enough to be treated to a special 15-minute preview introducing the MCU’s newest superhero and showing off some of the mind-bending visuals Director Scott Derrickson has in store.
First up, we are given a very condensed journey through Strange’s origin story. A world-renown and utterly arrogant neurosurgeon, Strange’s career is ended when he cripples his hands in a horrific car accident. Searching for a way to heal himself, he eventually comes across Tilda Swinton’s The Ancient One, who introduces him to a world of magic he never knew existed and gives him a glimpse of the limitless power that lies beyond our perception. With his old life over, Strange dedicates himself to the pursuit of mastering this new world of magic and eventually becomes one of the Earth’s most powerful sorcerers.
If you’ve been worried the trailers have been looking a tad too dour (that Wi-Fi gag aside), or that Derrickson’s background as a horror director meant that this would be much more serious and po-faced than the studio’s usual fare, don’t be. This is a Marvel movie through and through, filled with the quippy banter and charmingly smug white male leads we have come to expect from the studio. Cumberbatch fits this world like a glove, giving a slightly warmer take on the lovably arrogant hero we have seen him play in Sherlock. The preview was big on showcasing that patented Marvel tone, and while not all of the gags landed, we were cutting through them pretty quickly so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that the dialogue will flow a little smoother with a bit more room to breathe.
But let’s get to what they really wanted to show-off: The crazy special effects and trippy designs that make this feel unlike any other big-budget blockbuster we’ve seen. Marvel’s head honcho Kevin Feige has long said that he hoped Doctor Strange was going to treat moviegoers to visuals they’ve never seen before, and if this preview is any indication of the rest of the film, they’ve certainly succeeded. The beautifully bizarre designs of Steve Ditko’s original artwork for the character are a clear inspiration for the film’s visual direction. Strange’s first journey through a number of twisted realities is an acid trip with a $200 million budget; colours and images warp and morph from one landscape to another. At one point, Cumberbatch watches as his fingers grow into small arms with creepy little hands, each with their own fingers that grow into smaller arms with smaller hands ad inifinitum, until millions of small baby arms envelope the actor and turn him into a mosaic of himself. Plain text really can’t do it justice, but it’s unsettling and mesmerizing and pretty much everything I could have hoped for in a Doctor Strange movie.
Perhaps a little more exciting is how these ideas directly inform the action. The last part of the preview gave us a bit more of a look into the inception-like sequence we’ve caught glimpses of in the trailers. Here we see Mads Mikkelsen’s evil Kaecilius pursuing Strange and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Baron Mordo through the city. As they try to run, Kaecilius twists reality and gravity around them, pulling their destinations further away or suddenly hanging them upside down while the world around them keeps on moving along completely unaware. What really stands out is that while they are all sorcerers, they aren’t just a bunch of wizards shooting different coloured lighting at each other. Each has a mastery of their own kind of magic and bends the rules of reality in different ways in order to do battle. Kaecilius twists a building over on itself and dives onto it sending a shockwave, or stretches nothingness out to give it form and wields it like a blade. Strange, on the other hand, produces arcane shields and lashes out of cryptic symbols, or constructs a mechanism out of energy to slow and speed up time for an edge in the battle. Really cool stuff.
So yes, it does seem like Marvel have another winner on their hands. Obviously it comes down to how well the story and characters work (and god-willing they don’t waste another great actor on a half-baked villain), but so far it looks like the studio have crafted something that feels fresh and new, but still undeniably Marvel.
Only a few weeks now. Get excited, people.