As we count down to the long-awaited uber-team-up Avengers: Infinity War (out April 27), EW’s Marvel Movie Club is preparing by revisiting the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe in the weeks leading up to the mega-sized movie. EW will look back at one Marvel movie a week, every week, to reassess its powers and hopefully answer important questions along the way like “What was The Incredible Hulk?” “Does Nick Fury wash his eye-patch?” and “Is there a point to Hawkeye?” This week, we look back at Doctor Strange a.k.a. Dr. House Becomes a Magician.
Whenever a new Marvel movie comes out, I usually spend at least the next two weeks thinking about talking about it, whether or not I liked it. However, the opposite happened with Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange, which didn’t leave an impression on me for one important reason: The 2016 presidential election. Doctor Strange opened Nov. 4, and the election changed the world four days later on Nov. 8. Basically, everything became irrelevant after that, and I really haven’t given much thought to Doctor Strange since then. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case for many people who haven’t had a chance to revisit it since it hit theaters. So, to help prepare you for Avengers: Infinity War, which is the next time we’ll see Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange, I’ve pulled out the four most important things to remember from the movie.
1. Who is Doctor Strange?
Doctor Strange follows Stephen Strange, a genius neurosurgeon whose illustrious career comes to a heartbreaking (for him) end after his hands are damaged beyond repair in a car accident. Desperate to practice medicine again, Stephen goes on a spiritual journey that takes him to the doorstep of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who ends up teaching him that there are more important things in the world than his hands — specifically magic and the people trying to use it to bring an evil demon into our world. So he begins learning about the mystical arts and by the end of the movie, he becomes Earth’s main defender against interdimensional threats.
It’s fairly obvious that Doctor Strange tells a very similar story to 2008’s Iron Man, which is about narcissistic and sarcastic weapons manufacturer Tony Stark going on his own rebirth cycle that ends with him abandoning his old ways and becoming a superhero. Sure, Iron Man didn’t invent the cocky genius-to-hero arc and Doctor Strange won’t be the last to tell such a story, but the former at least made it feel fresh and fun, and here it feels kind of tired. Part of the problem is that Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t as charming as Robert Downey Jr., no matter how many pop culture references you make him say in his very funny American accent. His surly take on Strange is good, but he’s far from as inherently affable as other Marvel heroes who have experienced similar rebirth arcs.
2. Another Infinity Stone was introduced
The closer we get to Avengers: Infinity War, the more we’ll have to start talking about those pesky Infinity Stones. In case you forgot, Infinity Stones are those glowing balls of light that Thanos (Josh Brolin) is after. We’ve already encountered the Space Stone (the Tesseract), the Mind Stone (Vision’s forehead accessory), the Reality Stone (a.k.a. the Aether in Thor: The Dark World), and the Power Stone (in Guardians of the Galaxy). Now, Doctor Strange introduced us to the fifth stone, the Time Stone, which is encased in the Eye of Agamotto and grants Strange the ability to manipulate time and helps him stop Kaecelius and his merry band of fanatics in Hong Kong. At the end of the movie, he returned the Eye to Kamar-Taj. After Doctor Strange, there’s only one gem we haven’t seen yet: the Soul Stone.
3. It features some of Marvel’s most inventive fight scenes
In many ways, Doctor Strange felt like the most Marvel movie ever, but if there’s one thing that helped it stand out from the pack, it was its visual imagination. In the place of heroes fighting huge faceless armies, we got mind-bending and city-bending battles that turned the world literally upside down and inside out — basically that one scene from Inception times 1000. Strange and Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) running through a topsy-turvy New York is definitely one of the movie’s highlights, but the best battle is the final one between Strange and the interdimensional demon god Dormammu because it’s not even really a fight. In order to defeat Dormammu, Strange traps it in a time loop and dies many times (“Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain”) until he can convince it to abandon trying to invade our world. It’s a downright clever and subversive climax. With Doctor Strange’s inclusion in Avengers: Infinity War, there’s a chance that movie might borrow from this film’s trippy bag of tricks, at least whenever Strange is involved.
4. It establishes a pretty compelling villain
No, I’m not talking about Kaecilius. I mean Strange’s ally-turned-foe Baron Mordo, who sets off on a mission to rid the world of sorcerers. He’s an intense fundamentalist who believes you shouldn’t use magic to alter the natural order of things, and watching both the Ancient One and Strange do so has left him disillusioned. What’s great about this turn is that he does have a point, and I’m looking forward to seeing his philosophical clash with Strange in Doctor Strange 2 because anything’s better than another world domination-obsessed villain.
Next Week: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (a.k.a. An Intergalactic Edition of Maury)