By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Anyone who has followed Marvel Comic’s attempts to bring Doctor Strange to life will recall not only the made-for TV 1978 pilot but also the knock-off Doctor Mordrid (1992). They were made by other studios, under some guidance by the company. But when you flash forward to 2016, this definitive version by Marvel Studios will certainly bury the past and have more people swoon at the possibility of seeing Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston share the same space on the big screen sometime in the future! I can not say when, but I went into this movie thinking of this possibility minutes after the introductions and seeing just how perfect Cumberbatch is for the role.
After all the pre-requisite introductions and set up, including an explanation why Strange went to Nepal (not Tibet) which the advance preview did not reveal, I became enthralled with the real world tie-ins to books of occult lore that the good doctor had to study. In the list is, of course, the Lesser Key of Solomon. Other tomes were named, but I’m not as familiar with them and I’m by no means a sorcerer myself. In what I do know, spell casting requires a combination (or one) of verbal and somatic gestures, a detail this film gets right, and other invocations require special ingredients.
The philosophy can be considered by some occultists to be mixed up. The soul is generally regarded as eternal. Upon death, it is released from the prime material plane and is free to move on to the next emanation of life. The soul is also visible in the Astral Plane, and in traditional lore, there is a silver cord connecting it to the physical body. This type of detail is missed and not explored in the film. Too much would have detracted from the hero’s journey. Strange’s arrogance defines him for most of the first act and his faith hinges on science providing all the answers. The irony of him losing stable control of his fingers is that he looks towards experimental procedures and pseudo-science to repair the muscles in his fingers.
Upon meeting The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) in hopes to find a fix, all his beliefs are challenged. The visual spectacle is a special effects behemoth combining Pink Floyd, The Matrix, Inception and Interstellar into one massive treat! The 3D effects is really good for this moment, but not for the whole film. I want to say there’s Harry Potter in this mix too, but that world created by J.K. Rowling does not take into consideration raising magicians to protect the Earth from cosmic supernatural threats. The mention that all magical objects has an intelligence all their own is a sweet touch, and that idea hails more from Dungeons and Dragons than when Garrick Ollivander said to Harry, “The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter.”
This idea showed that writers Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill did their research. They created a magical world that’s partly influenced by pop culture’s interpretations but also delving into why these mystics exist. They live to protect. Those who have fallen from the path — looking out for themselves — tend to be pathetic. They are either looking for that Philosopher’s Stone to extend their lives — which is the basis of this film’s plot — or to transform Nature to suit his or her own selfish needs. Enter Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who steals pages from a tome that should have been better protected. Nobody is interested in recovering those lost pages until Strange finally decides to investigate. Unlike other disciples, this individual is always asking questions. He’s a quick study since he has a photographic memory, and by act three, he has to become the reluctant hero when the Eye of Agamotto and Cloak of Levitation accept him as master.
His skill to control these objects is not perfect, and to see him struggle is funny. In many ways, this movie is a carbon copy of Iron Man, the film that kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To watch the same struggles and playfulness is fine. For that reason, I can not wait to see Doctor Strange and Tony Stark meet. Will their egos cause them to clash or can they work together? Strange’s mastery of the mystic arts is not complete. He still has a long way to go before he can be considered a hero by the public. Stark’s journey is moreorless complete. He’s now a master, but of what? His fears of an interstellar threat is only going to be heightened when he hears from Strange about the paranormal.
While this world will have to be taken from the comics instead of real life, I’m anxious to wonder what’s in store for this universe once the Infinity Wars is over. Will there be other magic using individuals? If a New Mutants movie gets made, I can not wait for Illyana Rasputina to make her Magik / Darkchylde presence known! On the small screen, Ghost Rider made his presence known (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Doctor Doom needs to be known as both a mage and scientist (in the next reboot of Fantastic Four) and Loki’s shapeshifting abilities needs no explanation. In the upcoming Cloak and Dagger, just where people are sent to when enveloped in Cloak’s shroud is a pocket dimension. Dagger’s weapons are made from life energy. The weapons Kaecilius and his cronies “pull out of thin air” looks like hardened Aether and this detail only furthers the fact that there are other forces at work which makes up the universe.
Even Thanos is a magic user of sorts. And as all the pieces of the puzzle finally comes together, fans eagerly waiting for the Infinity War to start will have to wait for how the Guardians of the Galaxy (the second film) factors into bringing all of the heroes together for the upcoming battle royale.
4 Stars out of 5