Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Three Rewatch: Doctor Strange

Back on the old site, I wrote a few articles following a rewatch of the Marvel Cinamatic Universe. This is a new one

Title: Doctor Strange

Director: Scott Derrickson

Writer(s): Scott Derrickson, Jon Spaihts, and C. Robert Cargill

Characters created by: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

US Release Date: United States on November 4, 2016

Budget: $165 million

Worldwide Box-office: $677 million

Returning characters: Thor

Summary : In Kathmandu, Nepal, the sorcerer Kaecilius and his zealots enter the secret compound Kamar-Taj and behead its librarian. They steal a few pages from an ancient, mystical text belonging to the Ancient One, a long-lived sorcerer who has taught every student at Kamar-Taj, including Kaecilius, in the mystic arts. The Ancient One pursues the traitors, but Kaecilius and his followers escape.

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In New York City, Stephen Strange, an acclaimed but arrogant neurosurgeon, badly injures his hands in a car accident, leaving him unable to operate. Fellow surgeon and former lover Christine Palmer tries to help him move on, but Strange vainly pursues experimental surgeries to heal his hands. Strange eventually learns of Jonathan Pangborn, a paraplegic who mysteriously regained full use of his legs.

Pangborn directs Strange to Kamar-Taj, where he is taken in by Mordo, a sorcerer under the Ancient One. The Ancient One demonstrates her power to Strange, revealing the astral plane and other dimensions such as the Mirror Dimension. She eventually agrees to train Strange, despite his arrogance, which reminds her of Kaecilius.


Strange studies under the Ancient One and Mordo, and from ancient books in the library that is now guarded by the master Wong. Strange learns that Earth is protected from threats from other dimensions by a shield generated from three buildings called Sanctums, in New York City, London, and Hong Kong, which are all connected and accessible from Kamar-Taj. The sorcerers’ task is to protect the Sanctums, though Pangborn instead chose to channel mystical energy only into walking again.


Strange progresses quickly, and secretly reads the text from which Kaecilius stole pages, learning to bend time with the mystical Eye of Agamotto. Mordo and Wong warn Strange against breaking the laws of nature, drawing a comparison to Kaecilius’ desire for eternal life. Kaecilius uses the stolen pages to contact the powerful Dormammu of the Dark Dimension, where time is non-existent. Kaecilius destroys the London Sanctum to weaken Earth’s protection.

The zealots then attack the New York Sanctum, killing its guardian, but Strange holds them off with the help of the Cloak of Levitation until Mordo and the Ancient One arrive. Strange and Mordo become disillusioned with the Ancient One after Kaecilius reveals that the Ancient One’s long life is due to her drawing power from the Dark Dimension. Kaecilius mortally wounds the Ancient One and escapes to Hong Kong. Before dying, she tells Strange that he too will have to bend the rules to complement Mordo’s steadfast nature in order to defeat Kaecilius.

Strange and Mordo arrive in Hong Kong to find Wong dead, the Sanctum destroyed, and the Dark Dimension irresistibly engulfing Earth. Strange uses the Eye to reverse time and save Wong, then creates an infinite time loop inside the Dark Dimension that traps himself and Dormammu in the same moment of time. After repeatedly killing Strange to no avail, Dormammu finally gives in to Strange’s demand that he leave Earth and take Kaecilius and his zealots with him in return for Strange breaking the time loop.


Disillusioned by Strange and the Ancient One defying nature’s laws, Mordo departs. Strange returns the Eye to Kamar-Taj, and takes up residence in the New York Sanctum


MCU Continuity Nods: Although Wong mentions The Avengers and the Infinity Stones, there are very few connections to the MCU. Early on, Strange hears about a US air force colonel who was injured testing some experimental armor. Despite the similarities, it is unlikely that this is a reference to the injuries sustained by James Rhodes in Civil War. It is more likely that this refers to Justin Hammer’s experiment in Iron Man 2 where the top half of the armor spins 180 degrees (Hammer states that the pilot survived).

Easter Eggs: In the comics Christine Palmer is one of the many characters also known as the hero Night Nurse. Rosario Dawson portrays another Night Nurse character, Claire Temple, in Marvel’s Netflix television series. The “22 year-old woman with schizophrenia with an an electronic implant in her brain struck by lightning,” is a reference to the superhero Madalyn Joyce, also known as Miss America who, in the comics received superpowers in this manner.

There are a lot of artifacts from the comic. Master Mordo has a relic called the Staff Of The Living Tribunal, which the comics The Living Tribunal is an incredibly powerful cosmic entity. Doctor Strange consuders using an axe, called Angarrumus. There is a white mask with an ankh next to it, a reference to the Moon Knight. Kaecilius uses the Daggers of Daveroth. Wong wields the Wand of Watoomb. Strange hits Kaecilius over the head with the Brazier of Bom’Galiath, a relic used for transportation and binds him with the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak. Kaecilius steals the Book of Cagliostro.

Stan Lee Cameo: man on the bus reading “The Doors Of Perception” by Aldous Huxley. The book is a recounting of Huxley’s experience taking psychedelic drugs, with particular mention of their use in perceiving art. Dr Strange comics have long been associated with psychedelic drugs because of their use of surreal images to portray magical dimensions and beings.


Infinity Stone: The Eye of Agamotto is the Time Gem


Post/mid Credits Scene: In a mid-credits scene, Strange decides to help Thor, who has brought his brother Loki to Earth to search for their father Odin. In a post-credits scene, Mordo confronts Pangborn and steals the mystical energy that he uses to walk, stating that Earth has “too many sorcerers”.


My Take: To start off with, the film is visually stunning. Yes there is a whole lot of CGI, but it’s used in interesting ways. The Mirror Dimension is reminiscent of the works of painter M.C. Escher.

Dormammu’s Dark Dimension is right out of Steve Ditko’s artwork from the comics.

I think your enjoyment of this film depends on how you feel about Benedict Cumberpatch. I feel that he brings enough of the arrogance and cockiness that the Doctor possesses, and even when he loses everything, it’s that drive that propels him. I like the idea of a man of science coming up against the supernatural, and struggling to reconcile the two worlds. Lee and Ditko originally based Strange off of actor Vincent Price, (when I mentioned this to Belle, a huge Price fan, she declared that the similarities were clear) and you can see the combination of patrician-like manner and blazing articulate intelligence.

The casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One is interesting. In the comics, The Ancient One is shown as an old Asian man. The filmmakers wanted to avoid creating a negative stereotype, and at first considered using an Asian woman, but thought that an older woman would invoke the Dragon Lady stereotype while a younger woman would come across as a fanboy fantasy. Ultimately, the decided that The Ancient One was more of a title and cast Swinton, which was widely criticized as whitewashing. (In response, Derrickson said, “Asians have been whitewashed and stereotyped in American cinema for over a century and people should be mad or nothing will change. What I did was the lesser of two evils, but it is still an evil.”)


I like the relationship between Strange and Palmer. Instead of love interests, they play former lovers who are now friends. I also thought the Cloak of Levitation was hysterical.

Next up: Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2