The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been successful with characters that the general public is mostly unaware of, including Iron Man, Ant Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Wildly successful despite licensing their heavy hitters – Spider-Man and the X-Men – to other studios. The early successes came from recognizing that each character had an implied style; Iron Man fits naturally into a techno-thriller while Thor is epic fantasy and Black Panther is ideal for Afrofuturism. Marvel Studios is willing to give lesser known characters a chance as a result, allowing the mixing of superhero with another genre.

Doctor Strange first appeared in Strange Tales issue 110 in 1963, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Doctor Stephen Strange was a top surgeon in New York City, with the arrogance to go with it. However, with pride comes a fall, and the greater the pride, the greater the fall. For Strange, he had a long drop. After a car accident where he drove off the cliff, Strange found his career ended thanks to hands too damaged for even the second best surgeon to heal fully.

Unable to accept his fate, Strange exhausted his wealth to find a way to heal his hands. When Western medicine provided no hope, he switched to Eastern and learned of Kamar-Taj in Tibet. Spending the last of his wealth to get there, he scoured Tiber until he found the Ancient One, the master of Kamar-Taj. The Ancient One refused to heal Strange’s hands and instead offered to teach the doctor about mysticism, which he turned down. However, thanks to a freak blizzard, Strange couldn’t leave. He discovered that the Ancient One’s apprentice, Baron Mordo, was trying to take over Kamar-Taj. Mordo discovered Strange knew about his plans and restrained him with magic. The Ancient One was too powerful for Mordo to overcome, though.

Having witnessed the power of magic, Strange changed his mind about learning mysticism, reasoning that the only way to stop Mordo was to learn magic himself. After years of study, Strange mastered magic and became the Ancient One’s successor to being Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.

Strange returned to New York, his hands healed thanks to his mastery of magic. He settled in the Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village along with Wong, whose family line served the Ancient One during his six-hundred-year lifetime. As Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange fought such beings as Loki, the Dread Dormammu, Satannish, and the Undying Ones, along with more terrestrial threats like Baron Mordo and Kaecilius, defending the Earth alone and alongside teams like the Avengers and the Defenders.

In 2016, the character got his own film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character, Doctor Strange also starred Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo, Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, and Benedict Wong as Wong. The film acts as Strange’s origin story, showing how he went from arrogant surgeon to Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.

Strange’s fall is straight from the comic, updated to reflect today’s technology. He is still the top surgeon, he still is arrogant, and he still has a car accident that destroys the function in his hands. This time, the reason for the crash is him trying to use his smartphone while driving. Strange spends his wealth and uses his research skills to try to find a way to heal his hands so that he can return to work. Western medicine again fails, leading Strange to seek out Kamar-Taj.

The search leads to Kathmandu, where Strange meets Mordo. Mordo leads him to where the Ancient One awaits. Strange is hesitant, not believing in mysticism, and gets kicked out of the Ancient One’s building. However, the doctor is persistent, staying outside day and night until let back in. The persistence pays off, and Strange is taken to Kamar-Taj. Strange is put through training, having to learn to accept the idea that magic is real. But once he gets past that hurdle, his learning accelerates.

Kaecilius is the main problem. While the world is unaware, Kaecilius is working with the Dread Dormammu to weaken the mystic shields protecting Earth. His first attempt to weaken the shields failed; the Ancient One is very capable of self-defense, and decapitation is difficult against a master of the mystic arts. Kaecilius is aware of another way to bring down the shields. There are three Sancta Santorum – one in London, one in Hong Kong, and one in Greenwich Village. When Kaecilius strikes in London, the Ancient One, Strange, and Mordo arrive too late to stop the destruction. During the fight, Strange gets flung through a portal and winds up in the Greenwich Village Sanctum Santorum.

Strange has some time to recover and explores the building. He is somewhat surprised to see that he is back in New York City but takes advantage of the time he has. When Kaecilius and his minions arrive, Strange is somewhat prepared. One of the minions winds up stranded in the Sahara Desert, and the Cloak of Levitation breaks free to help Strange fight the invaders. Kaecilius does wound Strange before leaving.

Thanks to his new knowledge, Strange is able to get to the hospital he used to work at and convince a former co-worker to begins surgery to save his life. He even helps by astrally projecting to give pointers. Kaecilius’ other minion, who was left behind at the Sanctorum, manages to follow Strange to the hospital. There is a fight on the astral, but when Strange begins to flatline, his co-worker shocks him. The electrical energy passes through the astral and into the minion. Strange works out the implications and tells her to up the amperage. The next shock kills the minion, which causes Strange to question himself. While he was arrogant as a surgeon, he did believe in the Hippocratic Oath, particularly, “Do no harm.”

Strange isn’t given time to work things out. The Hong Kong Sanctorum is under attack. By the time Mordo and Strange arrive, it’s too late; the building has collapsed. Strange, not wanting to kill anyone and not wanting Earth open to the Dread Dormammu, uses forbidden sorcery, temporal sorcery, through the Eye of Agamotto. The destruction starts to reverse, but Dormammu, coming from a timeless dimension, is not stopped. Strange decides to take the fight to Dormammu, bringing along time. It doesn’t matter how many times Dormammu kills him, Strange keeps looping in time. Dormammu finally bargains with Strange and Earth is saved.

The mid-credits sequence sees Strange talking with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) about being extra-dimensional beings and asking when he will go home. Thor replies that he and his brother, Loki, are searching for their father, Odin. Once Odin is found, all three will return to Valhalla. The post-credit sequence has Mordo beginning a crusade against sorcerers, especially those who break the laws of magic.

Casting for Doctor Strange is perfect. Cumberbatch has the proper look for the character, and the costume doesn’t need as much CGI or skintight material as characters like Spider-Man and Deadpool, Cloak of Levitation aside. Even with a lesser known character, accuracy does help sell the adaptation. As an origins story, things are being set up, so what is shown at the beginning isn’t what Doctor Strange is during the run of the titles he appears in. His most obvious magic items, the Cloak of Levitation and the Eye of Agamotto, are there.

There are some changes made to the background, though minor. Mordo and Strange aren’t rivals at Kamar-Taj, but break apart because of Strange’s use of forbidden sorcery. Strange’s hands aren’t fully healed, but he’s working on strengthening them. The key element of Strange’s background, though, remains intact – the pride, the fall, and the atonement, all done with a fantasy backdrop.

Marvel Studios is well aware that their success has been from being able to adapt titles from the comic page to the silver screen without compromising the characters. Fans and the general public alike can enjoy what’s onscreen. Doctor Strange is no different. The changes are minor and the film delivers a spectacle.


This article was originally published at Seventh Sanctum.

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