The se­crets of Strange’s awe­some amulet

SFX - - Doctor Strange -

That’s some se­ri­ously re­al­ity-bend­ing bling Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch is rock­ing. De­scribed by Strange him­self as “one of the most pow­er­ful mys­tic con­duits on the phys­i­cal plane”, the amulet holds the All-See­ing Eye of Ag­amotto, a relic with the power to emit an “all-re­veal­ing light”, open a por­tal to the Dark Di­men­sion and re­pel de­monic en­ti­ties. It’s the cre­ation of Ag­amotto the All-See­ing, one of the pow­er­ful ex­tra-di­men­sional be­ings known as the Vis­hanti. Steve Ditko’s orig­i­nal comic book de­sign was in­spired by the All See­ing Eye of the Bud­dha aka the Amulet of Snail Mar­tyrs, a Nepalese totem that pro­tects its wearer against evil. There’s spec­u­la­tion that the Eye is one of the MCU’s fa­bled In­fin­ity Stones but studio supremo Kevin Feige will only say, “it has the abil­ity to ma­nip­u­late prob­a­bil­i­ties – which is an­other way of say­ing ‘screw around with time.’”

He’s a fully qual­i­fied doc­tor, though. His ori­gin tale – told a full five is­sues af­ter his de­but in July 1963’s Strange Tales #110 – re­vealed that he was for­merly a gifted but bas­tardly neu­ro­sur­geon who lost his phys­i­cal skills af­ter smash­ing up his hands in a car crash. Spi­ralling into self-loathing, Strange be­came a drifter, his hunt for a cure lead­ing him to the se­cret reaches of Ti­bet, in search of the fa­bled An­cient One, a seem­ingly im­mor­tal ma­gus. Tilda Swin­ton plays the An­cient One in the movie, switch­ing both the gen­der and the eth­nic­ity of the comic book orig­i­nal. The hid­den, mys­ti­cal Ti­betan realm is a well-worn trope in ad­ven­ture fic­tion, reach­ing all the way back to James Hil­ton’s 1933 novel Lost Hori­zon, the best­seller that gave the world the con­cept of Shangri-La. It played into the ori­gin of pulp ad­ven­turer the Shadow and was re­vis­ited on the big screen in 2005’s Bat­man Be­gins. The An­cient One al­ready had a dis­ci­ple – the ne­far­i­ous Baron Karl Amadeus Mordo, who’ll be brought to the big screen by Chi­we­tel Ejio­for (12

Years A Slave, The Mar­tian). Foil­ing Mordo’s plot to kill his master and dis­cov­er­ing his own ca­pac­ity for good, Strange be­came the An­cient One’s favoured heir to the ti­tle of Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme. Studio head Kevin Feige calls it “a clas­sic Marvel ori­gin story… one of the best ori­gins ever.” Di­rec­tor Scott Der­rick­son tells USA To­day, “Strange is spir­i­tu­ally evolv­ing through his pain and tor­ment, and do­ing it through the ex­pe­ri­ence of in­cred­i­bly weird re­al­i­ties.” Strange’s sor­cer­ous skill-set in­cludes the power to as­trally project, re­leas­ing a wraith-like ver­sion of him­self onto higher planes of ex­is­tence (we see Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch ex­pe­ri­ence this phe­nom­e­non in the trailer af­ter a spot of spook-fu from Swin­ton’s An­cient One). His scar­let Cloak of Le­vi­ta­tion lets him soar with­out the need for a fly­ing spell. It’s not all fey spell-casting, mind. Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch tells

En­ter­tain­ment Weekly that there’s more rough and tum­ble in the film than you might imag­ine: “There’s a huge amount of phys­i­cal­ity. He’s phys­i­cally a very strong pres­ence in the world.” While Ditko plot­ted the sto­ries Lee took care of the ma­jes­ti­cally pur­ple di­a­logue. “Writ­ing Dr Strange was a hoot be­cause it gave me the op­por­tu­nity to make up weird ex­pres­sions for him to say,” he re­called. “I liked to make up my own nutty-sound­ing ex­pres­sions such as ‘By the Hoary Hosts of Hog­goth, let the dark­ness shroud the light!’ or ‘By the Mys­tic Moons of Mun­ni­por, may your weapons turns to sand!’” Many as­sumed Stan the (sha)Man was in­vok­ing ar­cane mag­i­cal forces. “I hated hav­ing to ad­mit that I just dreamed the stuff up sim­ply be­cause I liked to use phrases that sounded dra­matic to me.” Ditko de­liv­ered the most as­ton­ish­ing art of his ca­reer, loos­ing Strange among ex­tradi­men­sional dream­scapes whose sheer psy­che­delic trip­pi­ness an­tic­i­pated the ’60s counter-cul­ture. Lee praised his col­lab­o­ra­tor’s “in­cred­i­bly dra­matic and mag­i­cal style”, say­ing, “When we’d have the good doc­tor en­ter­ing an­other di­men­sion, Steve drew that

di­men­sion in such a way that you could be­lieve it re­ally ex­isted. If any strip ever owed its flavour and in­di­vid­u­al­ity to an artist, this was the one.” Will Ditko’s retina-pop­ping realms trans­late to the big screen? The trailer gives us glimpses of kalei­do­scop­ing rooms and In­cep­tion-style fold­ing cityscapes but di­rec­tor Scott Der­rick­son prom­ises even more to feed your head. “I was al­ways in­ter­ested in the ex­treme mind-bend­ing vi­su­als of the comics,” he tells En­ter­tain­ment Weekly. “I had very am­bi­tious ideas for the vi­su­als that were rooted in the comics, that movies haven’t done yet. And a lot of that goes back to the Ditko art­work and all that ’60s crazi­ness you see in the comics.” Kevin Feige tells Screen­rant: “We like the idea of play­ing with al­ter­nate dimensions. The crazy Ditko acid trip way of trav­el­ling through dimensions is some­thing that we think is very, very cool… play­ing with the per­cep­tions of re­al­ity.” Af­ter Lee and Ditko de­parted the strip, Doc­tor Strange was given a brief and bizarre makeover, kit­ted out with a blue face mask to look more like a tra­di­tional su­per­hero and boost sales. He later be­came leader of the De­fend­ers, an an­ar­chic superteam that in­cluded the Hulk, the Sub-Mariner and the Silver Surfer in its free­wheel­ing ros­ter. The next gen­er­a­tion of cre­ators took Ditko’s high weird­ness even fur­ther, fu­elled by acid-soaked brain­storm­ing ses­sions. A clas­sic run of ’70s sto­ries by Steve En­gle­hart and Frank Brun­ner wit­nessed the cre­ation of the uni­verse and Strange’s en­counter with a time-trav­el­ling sorcerer named Sise-Neg – read it back­wards – in­tended to be God him­self. When Stan Lee de­manded they print a re­trac­tion, En­gle­hart and Brun­ner faked an ef­fu­sive fan letter from a Texan min­is­ter – and Marvel promptly ran it in the let­ters col­umn… Doc­tor Strange’s clas­sic ad­ver­saries in­clude Night­mare, ruler of the Night­mare World within the Dream Di­men­sion, the deeply de­monic Mephisto and the flam­ing-headed Dread Dor­mammu, tyrant of the Dark Di­men­sion. He’s also tus­sled with Drac­ula. No word on which – if any – four-colour foe we’ll see in the movie but Mads Mikkelsen’s char­ac­ter re­mains in­trigu­ingly un­named… Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch beat out Jared Leto, Ethan Hawke and Joaquin Phoenix to bring Strange to the big screen but he’s not the first live ac­tion in­car­na­tion: Peter Hooten played the Master of the Mys­tic Arts in a 1978 TV pi­lot. Tom Sel­leck was re­port­edly up for the role in the the early ’80s – it’s the ’tache, right? – while in 1989 Ni­co­las Cage was di­rec­tor Alex Cox’s pick. Now that would have melted re­al­ity… This is a cru­cial movie for Marvel. Just as Guardians Of The Gal­axy carved out the cos­mic fron­tier of the studio’s uni­verse and Dare­devil, on tele­vi­sion, es­tab­lished its street-level bat­tle­front, Doc­tor Strange will hurl au­di­ences even fur­ther away from their shiny, su­per­heroic com­fort zone. “It’s go­ing to open up a whole other side of sto­ry­telling for our movies,” prom­ises Kevin Feige. If Marvel nail this, it’s where the magic truly be­gins…

Doc­tor Strange opens on 28 Oc­to­ber.

It’s not all magic tricks and that – Doc­tor Strange and Baron Mordo run too!

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