Marvel film franchise grows with ‘Strange’

By Jesse Baalman

“Doctor Strange” points toward the future of the Marvel franchise that now contains 14 movies, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the popular psychedelic superhero, Dr. Stephen Strange, looks to become as much of a trademark as Robert Downey Jr.’s “Iron Man” is.

Dr. Strange is an acclaimed neurosurgeon who seeks to have his hands healed after they are shattered in a car accident. Kamar-Taj, where he gets treatment for his hands turns out to be where two sorcerers: The Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton, and Mordo played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, teach their pupils powers such as the manipulation of time and the ability to enter different realms and dimensions. Swinton and Ejiofor work well alongside each other in two roles that are defined by their aspects of humanity. Sorcerers also master the ability to shape shift in the world around them. This type of visually engaging source material makes a great case for using film technology through the 3D-experience.

The rather high-caliber casting of this movie is what makes it worthwhile. This is, at first glance, a superhero story about a millionaire, playboy and genius who becomes a hero by doing the most selfless act of all—saving the world. The performances of all involved, groundbreaking visuals and architectural special effects and meticulous storytelling make “Doctor Strange” stay outside of that typical origin story territory. What the plot points to is a lack in originality, and the mystical themes of death and mortality more than make up for it. Strange is a hero that we’ve seen before, but with deeper concerns that go beyond the physical world.

These similarities and post-credit scenes lead me to wonder if “Doctor Strange” will follow in Tony Stark of Iron Man’s footsteps to become a key part of The Avengers, as contracts are running out for the main cast from the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s phase one and two.

As much as fans have enjoyed the success and excitement of favorites like Iron Man and Captain America, a new era of movies awaits. New heroes such as Ant-Man, Dr. Strange and Black Panther are slowly becoming integral parts of the superhero saga. Brie Larson, Oscar winner for “Room,” will also star in an origin story for Marvel’s “Captain Marvel.” A beginning and ending of sorts will occur to the heroes in the next Avengers installment, due out May 2018. Stan Lee, beloved creator of many of these Marvel heroes, also has his obligatory cameo on a bus reading “The Doors of Perception,” a book about psychedelics.

The filmmaker driven approach and unique style of this Marvel film is something viewers should expect more of with acclaimed indie directors Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler respectively steering the new-aged path for upcoming “Thor: Ragnorak” and “Black Panther.” Marvel is sprawling in its investigation of these beloved comic book characters. One of the high points in this story uses shifting, folding and converging architecture as the setting for an eye-popping battle with Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius, a sorcerer who uses dark magic and this film’s antagonist. Director Scott Derrickson has honored the zany and colorful ‘60s “Doctor Strange” comic by approaching the visualization of the different dimensions and worlds in a grounded yet funky way.