*WARNING: This post may contain some spoilers for the final film*
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton
Director: Scott Derrickson
Marvel Studios / Walt Disney Studios
Opens: November 4th, 2016
This November, Marvel continues Phase Three of their cinematic universe with Doctor Strange. Given the studio’s track record, many people understandably have high hopes for this new foray into the mystic world. Unfortunately, the movie has also had its fair share of controversy, particularly with their casting as well as their flawed response to the related backlash. Luckily, select viewers received a 15-minute preview of the movie in an IMAX 3D footage event, not only to promote the film but also to assuage fears.
The sneak preview was essentially a 15-minute trailer, rather than a single scene from the actual film. While some of the footage was familiar, including the Wi-Fi- password scene from one trailer, the majority was brand new to viewers. These scenes added a lot of insight into the story, the performances, and the effects that the trailers skipped or glossed over.
The footage begins with Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) and Christine Palmer (McAdams), setting up the origin of Strange as a renowned surgeon who loses his career in a car accident. Afterward, they move onto the doctor’s initial interactions with the Ancient One (Swinton), including astral projection and a journey through multiple dimensions. The preview includes an introduction to Wong (Wong) as well as more insight into the motivations for the villain, Kaecilius (Mikkelsen). All of this is wrapped up with numerous action sequences and special effects that showcase different forms of sorcery, how they’re used throughout, and (of course) two key magical artifacts of immense power. Which brings the whole event to its conclusion and a hint at a possible mastermind behind it all.
As a major Doctor Strange fan, I’ve been concerned about this film from the start. I was not happy with some of the casting, and the trailers felt rather lackluster. I can now say that I am cautiously optimistic, as this preview suggests the film is far more loyal to the comics than previously thought. The sorcery, dimensions, and story made me feel like this character was finally given his due. Despite that, I also had a couple of critiques even as I praised the majority.
When it comes to the sorcery and dimensional aspects of the film, please dismiss any comments about Inception rip-offs with random light effects. Strange’s journey through different dimensions is incredibly trippy, some of them taken straight from the Ditko-era comics of the 1960’s (including the Dark Dimension itself) and others moving into the surreal and unworldly. Magic throughout includes the familiar hand gestures of the comic series (in addition to the mandalas from the trailers) and ranges from whip-like weapons to prismatic barriers to fiery portals. Even the Inception-like folding of buildings and scenery becomes appreciated, as spells are used almost as a weapon in massive action sequences where sorcerers battle each other between realities.
The cast remains a concern, however, although the performances were solid. Part of the problem is how Doctor Strange is presented as a mystic Tony Stark, with witty banter and snarky comments. The lines are amusing, but Cumberbatch’s delivery falters, proving that he is no equal to Robert Downey, Jr. in that department. Similarly, Swinton’s Ancient One seems a bit too forced at times with the Yoda-like attempts at wisdom mixed with sarcasm. Even Mikkelson’s villain seems rather unimpressive, leaving only Ejiofor and Wong without criticism… and Mordo had almost no major interactions in this footage. Wong’s presentation, however, was far more positive as he presented a different (and more authoritative) take on the character that holds promise.
The biggest concern, however, was the ending. Without spoiling too much, there are remarks throughout the film that suggest the true villain might be Dormammu. Several glyphs are shown when the Dark Dimension is mentioned (or even seen) that bear a similarity to his demonic visage. The end even contains a brief shot where Strange (fully armed with his artifacts) is facing a large face-like figure… but it’s not a fiery head. If that creature was some other extra-dimensional entity, then it was pretty cool. If, however, it was supposed to be Dormammu? I fear they have failed in his presentation in the same way Fantastic Four failed with Galactus or Green Lantern with Parallax.
Despite these critiques, I have moved from curious ambivalence into positive (yet wary) anticipation. In addition to the amazing effects, they are going to keep a lot of the dreamlike, unreal feel and themes that made Doctor Strange stand apart from other comics. The previous criticisms about the presentation of magic and dimension-hopping were unfounded, and the entire movie will hopefully be rife with the surreal and flashy. Hopefully, some of the performances will seem better in full context and over the course of the full movie, and any concerns about Dormammu’s presence (or presentation) are later dismissed.
Rating: Given the mere 15 minutes of footage in this preview, the Orb of Agamatto predicts a score of 4 out of 5 Vapors of Valtorr .