Movie studios often market their movies by tying it to another successful movie. On the marketing materials like posters it would state something like “From the director/producer of X”. Sometimes even going as far as “From the studio that brought you X now comes Y”. Like people actually care which studio is behind a movie. Unless it’s a studio with a perfect track record. Think of Pixar before Cars. One movie they did not advertise this way is Doctor Strange. A pity because I would have loved to see a movie poster of Doctor Strange with the following sentence above it: From the director of Hellraiser: Inferno.
It’s fun to see which directors Marvel hires to direct their movies. Most of them have no real experience in directing big budget blockbusters that heavily rely on special effects work. Derrickson’s filmography mostly consists of horror movies. His most high profile work to date is “The Day the Earth Stood Still”. The underwhelming 2008 remake starring Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly.
Doctor Strange is far from a horror movie. But it contains visuals that would not feel out of place in a Hellraiser movie. Some of scenes taking place in a different dimension remind me of Hellbound: Hellraiser II. The one which actually takes place in Hell.
The story revolves around doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). One of Marvel’s many characters with alliterating names. He is a brilliant, but also arrogant neuro-surgeon. When he ends up in a car crash his hands are permanently damaged beyond repair. Desperately searching for a cure he comes across the patient file of a once paralyzed man who now walks as if nothing ever happened to him. This man points him into the direction of a monastery in Nepal where monks are able to use magic to do almost everything. Forge weapons, open gateways to other dimensions and even heal injuries that modern medicine can not. Being a man of logic and science, embracing magic will be quite the feat for Stephen.
The magic in Doctor Strange brings a new element to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A universe that already consists of advanced technology, mutated people, Norse Gods and extra terrestrials. With the magic comes the possibility of the multiverse and other dimensions. They are explained by a character named the Ancient One who is played by Tilda Swinton in a role that has been met with accusations of white washing.
These dimensions are probably the most memorable element of Doctor Strange. The mirror world scenes seem to have been inspired by Inception and The Matrix. But the designers seem to have been on acid during production. These action scenes defy gravity and reality and are the best thing about this movie which is a rather by the numbers superhero origin movie.
Doctor Strange seems to take elements from other superhero movies and throw in some magic to set it apart. The character of Stephen Strange has a lot in common with Tony Stark. Both are arrogant rich men who due to some unforeseen event have to reinvent themselves. Strange’s journey also seems to have a lot in common with Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. Strange also heads of to the far east to find a monastery where monks teach him how to fight, as well as some other stuff.
This movie also incorporates the evil counterpart trope. Meaning that the antagonist is basically an evil version of the protagonist. A lot of Marvel origin movies feature an evil counterpart. Iron Man versus Iron Monger, Ant-Man versus Yellowjacket, Hulk versus The Abomination. I consider it a bit of lazy writing because plenty of movies have proven you can give two characters two fully different backstories in one movie. Take the Green Goblin in the first Spider-man movie for example. He’s not an evil clone of Spider-man and still has a decent origin story.
That also goes for Doctor Strange who is given a decent origin story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One that brings nothing new to the table in terms of storytelling, but it does successfully introduce other the concept of dimensions. These dimensions give the action scenes a fresh feeling. One of the most memorable scenes consists of a fight between the astral projections of Strange and Lucian (Scott Adkins) fighting while Strange’s body is on the operating table.
Marvel is one of those studios that can market their movies with the sentence “From the studio that brought you”. In a way it does with its MCU. Every movie seems to advertise the next movie they are going to release. Up until now they have managed not to make truly terrible movie. Even their worst movies are still watchable and entertaining. Doctor Strange is just one of many Marvel origin stories by now and doesn’t really stand out in terms of quality.
But even if it was bad, I would still watch it because he will be a part of the next Avengers movie. This proves that Marvel has found a brilliant strategy. I’m willing to bet that both Black Panther and Captain Marvel would not have made so much money at the box-office if they were not released two months before Infinity War and Endgame. Before they became available on home video so you had to see them at the cinema. As long as these movies are decent you won’t hear me complaining. But it would be nice to have a great movie on occasion.