Marvel's 2016 film "Doctor Strange" is a visual masterpiece with its aesthetics complemented by a gifted cast.
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the egocentric but talented neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange, the film explores what Adam Frank, the science consultant for the production, calls the "mind-body problem," or the relationship between the mind and physical experiences.
Indeed, a mind over matter struggle is prevalent throughout the entire story. After a near-fatal car accident effectively ends Strange's career due to severe nerve damage in his hands, the doctor spends a large sum of money on experimental surgery. When none of them restore function to his hands, he travels to the Kamar-Taj (Marvel's fictional location in Nepal), where former paraplegic, Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt), claims to have regained his ability to walk.
Once there, Strange meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who exposes him to the multiverse, or the endless number of universes and dimensions that exist alongside our own. He also discovers magic, though the twist is that it comes from one's own mind and ability to harness mystical energy.
Although the Ancient One initially kicks Strange out due to his inflated ego and biting arrogance, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), one of her pupils, convinces her to let him back in and take him under her wing as he commits to a taxing trek of healing through self-discovery.
Director Scott Derrickson and his team have managed to create a superhero film that doesn't just give viewers a CGI-infested visual ride with lacks in quality storytelling.
Derrickson, known for directing horror-genre films such as "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" (2005), was a wise directing choice on Marvel's behalf, as he brought with him a more original and imaginative vision that supersedes what viewers are used to seeing in comic book adaptations.
"One of the things that I was pretty clear about in my initial meetings with Kevin was the nature of the visual effects sequences and wanting them to be game-changing," Derrickson said in a Q&A moderated by Professor Leonard Maltin at USC'S Norris Theater, alongside Marvel Studios President, Kevin Feige. "I felt very strongly that visual arts had become, [for] myself as a viewer, really boring in that they were always used for mass destruction…I think a starting point for the whole process was to try to design sequences that were more creative than destructive."
The absence of superheroes leaving a trail of death and wreckage in their wake was a refreshing change. It was both more visually appealing and mentally stimulating to instead see buildings turn in on themselves like 3-D puzzles as the characters fought in mirrored dimensions without disrupting the lives of innocent bystanders.
Simply put, Marvel can't go wrong with bringing on Derrickson for another picture. As Feige said, they don't look to hire directors who have made "big, giant successful" movies in the past, but rather individuals who have the potential to make such films, referencing Derrickson's "Emily Rose" project that still gives him nightmares.
"I'm not a giant horror movie guy, but to pull that off, there is artistry at work — to have something that lingers that long," he said. "He also has a 'Hellraiser' movie on his resume, which is awesome."
Most importantly, however, Feige affirmed it was Derrickson's ability to capture their conceptual vision for the film and bring it to life both coherently and intelligently that secured his directorship.
"Doctor Strange" offers more than just visual mastery. The film also subtly explores both Strange's personal journey as a disabled neurosurgeon and the overarching conflict of a dark dimension's attempt to take over Earth. This places Strange in a dilemma that forces him to choose between returning to his old, selfish life or embracing a newer, more altruistic one where he serves a purpose that is bigger than him — the protection of his planet and humanity.
It was this character journey that fueled Derrickson's determination to get the job as director, specifically the "thematic idea of trauma and healing and time" and Strange's transformation from an egocentric with materialist values to a "self-denying master of the mystic arts" as a result of his suffering.
As Frank said in a previous interview with Annenberg Media, "People go to the movies because they want good stories," and a wonderful story arc is what drives "Doctor Strange." It is full of magic and promise, but not so removed from reality as to leave viewers with a theme that is entirely inapplicable to real life.
Perhaps one of the more unreal aspects of the film is Cumberbatch's out-of-this world performance. Brimming with talent, it's as if he is driven by the very mystical energy his character learns to channel. He smoothly transitions from an upbeat but vain and haughty neurosurgeon to a desperate, broken man whose single-handed pursuit of a curing method is almost unhinged. Cumberbatch's emotional range and abilities as an actor are so high in caliber that they leave one baffled as to how so much talent can exist in one man.
Derrickson credited Feige when discussing the idea of casting Cumberbatch. "I very quickly said yes and I thought it was great," he said. "The more I thought about it, the more I felt it had to be Benedict."
Cumberbatch was initially unavailable for the role, prompting Derrickson to audition other actors in Los Angeles and New York. But he still couldn't see anybody else for the part.
"Kevin, to his credit, changed the release date to accommodate an actor, which is very rare in a movie like this," he said.
"Doctor Strange" is a must-watch work of art. Released Nov. 4, it's sure to capture viewers into its fantastical dimension of human struggle and adventure.
Watch the trailer below:
Reach Staff Reporter Agnessa Kasumyan here.