Marvel Raises the Stakes with Dr. Strange (Spoiler Alert)
Marvel Magic Takes Shape
Marvel has been teasing its fans with magic as a mainstay of the MCU for the better part of a decade, but always manages to dash the viewers hope, until now. In Thor: The Dark World, Freya explains to Jane Foster that what she perceives as magic is nothing more than technology so advanced that humanity lacks its comprehension. In The Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Scarlett Witch’s powers were re-imagined from magically based to a science project. The Black Panther’s magical origins were yet to be revealed in Captain America: Civil War. Even the origins of Ghost Rider, on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., has been left in a state of doubt as to whether he is really possessed or just another Inhuman. Marvel’s Dr. Strange doesn’t simply confirm the existence of magic in the MCU, it defines it in such a way that doesn’t discount Freya’s explanation. The Ancient One, Dr. Strange’s mentor, reveals that we call spells or magic is the source code of universe. A way of manipulating and reprogramming matter by tapping into the language of its construction, thoughts. It’s an explanation that satisfies the MCU’s science fiction based mechanics while providing a way to interpret magic as something other than just metaphysical hocus pocus.
With that said, Marvel’s Dr. Strange is by far the most visually breathtaking film of the MCU to date. Within the first three minutes of the film, viewers are introduced to a world where the laws of the physics are played with as if they were as malleable as water running through your fingertips. Entire buildings fold in on themselves like Legos, gravitational orientations are flipped and sorcerers conjure imaginative and visually stunning weapons from the aether. If you thought the final battles of the Avengers movies were stunning, you will be floored by how much Marvel has upped the ante in Dr. Strange.
A Terrifying Dormammu
For those who haven’t enjoyed Dr. Strange’s more than 50 years of comic book history, Dormammu is by far the sorcerer supreme’s most terrifying and powerful enemy. He is a timeless malevolent being who is more powerful than the planet eating Galactus and Mephesto, Marvel’s devil incarnate, combined. As a matter of fact, Dormammu’s is the reason that each world in the multiverse needs a sorcerer supreme to protect it in the first place. The sole purpose of the movie’s sorcerers is to protect the barriers that prevent the extra dimensional being from swallowing our universe and plummeting all of creation into endless darkness, literally. By introducing the reality devouring being to the MCU, Marvel studios was seriously raising the stakes and laid a massive amount of pressure on themselves to re-imagine a albeit menacing looking fiery figure from the pages of graphic literature, into a truly terrifying visual representation of a being akin the Buffyverse’s First Evil. I won’t ruin the final product for those reading this article but I highly recommend watching it in theaters to get the full effect of the studio’s hard work.
Modor: A Good Man?
Like many of Marvel’s 1960s villains, Mordo has always been a two dimensional character. Depending on which comics in the Marvel multiverse fans have read, throughout the decades the relationship between Dr. Strange and Mordo has normally started as rivals. Mordo is usually firmly portrait as an antagonist who delights in punishing Strange. Often times, the reason for Mordo’s turn to the dark side if out of jealously for Strange being chosen as the next Sorcerer Supreme. The MCU’s portrayal of Strange’s foil is a much more complex character. Like the best villains, Mordo believes his ends justify the means. Those expecting an arrogant and obnoxious character will be pleasantly surprised to meet a version of Mordo who is ultimately and honorable man with ideological reasons for turning from Strange who he actually respects and befriends throughout the film.
A Flawed Yet Endearing Hero
In terms of origin stories, Strange’s climb from a mangled surgeon desperately seeking to heal his hands, to the sorcerer supreme is virtually identical to path he takes in the source material. He begins as an arrogant figure who cares little for the lives of the individual and is more concerned with medical breakthroughs that will cement his name in history. His path to humility is a struggle, but what really made the film, in my opinion, was that unlike Iron Man, Captain America and the litany of other characters portrait in the MCU thus far, his path to the position of sorcerer supreme is not over when the credits role. Throughout the film he is portrayed as the mystic amateur that he is. Each villain he bests in the film, is by the skin of his teeth. He often requires a person or magical item to come to his aid before the big bads smash him to pieces. The film ends with a Dr. Strange becoming the master of the New York Sanctum Santorum, but he has yet to fully realize his destiny as the sorcerer supreme and the monumental responsibility it entails. This opens the door for a standalone sequel that I would be very interested in watching.