“This rivals any cinematic mind-trip”
We have a cast that I think has more awards and more award nominations than any single cast we’ve ever put together,” says Kevin Feige, producer of what may be Marvel’s most audacious, most ambitious – certainly its most reality-defying – movie yet. “The fact that they’re all willing to suit up and step into this very trippy world with us is a testament to both our director Scott Derrickson and the source material that it comes from.” With Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role,
Doctor Strange takes the Marvel Cinematic Universe to next level weirdness, casting a hex that unlocks the supernatural possibilities of the blockbuster franchise machine. It’s a film that has a fan’s-eye fidelity to the comics – just like Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original creation, the cinematic Strange begins as a swaggering, egotistical surgeon, travelling East in search of ancient secrets to fix injuries sustained in a terrible car crash – but it aims to explore new storytelling dimensions, too.
“We have this great journey of this character from this arrogant surgeon to someone who needs to put ego aside and embrace this new reality that he’s learned about,” says Feige. “It has probably the best solo origin story of any Marvel character.”
The Mists of Munnopor are clearing… The doctor will see you now!
How does it feel to finally nudge the Marvel Universe into the supernatural genre?
I’ve been talking about Doctor Strange for many, many years. It’s been something that we’ve wanted to do for a long time because it represents an entirely new aspect to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for us. Just like in the comics, Doctor Strange deals with parallel
dimensions, alternate dimensions and the multiverse, which unlocks an entirely new area of storytelling for us. There are these streetlevel narratives of the Marvel Universe that we’ve seen in a lot of films. There is the cosmic level that Thor and Guardians and The Avengers have taken us to but there always has been a very important supernatural side to the Marvel comics, and we haven’t really touched on that. And Doctor Strange is our perfect entry point into it.
How does the supernatural work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
In the Doctor Strange mythology, the supernatural has its basis in physics and in string theory and in quantum mechanics, and if you even know a little bit about any of those things it may as well be magic; it may as well be unbelievable like parallel dimensions – the notion that there could be another dimension right now on top of us that we don’t know about. There could be various worlds. There could be energies from those worlds spilling into our own world. So, Doctor Strange is all about a sect of people who refer to themselves as sorcerers who are aware of this and who can tap into it, and who can defend us from certain things that want to come in from those other dimensions. But they can also utilise the powers available from those other dimensions to assist us here on Earth and in our own realm.
What does that give you as filmmakers? What it really does is give a Matrix/Inception/ Miyazaki–style, mind-bending trip to the MCU. Look at what Steve Ditko did in those original Doctor Strange comics. We’ve taken that and translated it into an action sequence and a giant blockbuster film.
What does Benedict Cumberbatch bring to the role of Stephen Strange?
You need a spectacular actor for this role and the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch agreed to do it and was as excited and as enthusiastic to portray this character as any actor that has ever joined our universe was huge to us. He was somebody that was a prototype for us and this character for many years as we were developing it. He came in for a few meetings and before I even could say it he goes, “Doctor Strange?” and we were like, “Yes.” It was a bit of a journey getting there but the fact that he came on board is one of the great pleasures of working here. He’s great.
You’ve taken Baron Mordo, a classic villain from the original comics. How does he fit into the story you’re telling?
Mordo, played by Chewitel Ejiofor, is a mentor in this film. Mordo is a best friend to Stephen Strange. He has gone through the journey that Strange is currently going on before, and he acts as a guide for Strange when he gets to this facility. He introduces him to the Ancient One who is the head teacher for this organisation. Mordo is a cool, normal guy and in a certain way he becomes a partner to Strange. He is a good guy throughout the entire film and that is somewhat different than the
Mordo in the comic books. The Mordo in the comic books is his archnemesis and is somebody who is jealous of Strange from his earliest arrival at this school. But we didn’t want to do that; it’s very predictable.
Are you homaging the classic Steve Ditko costume for Doctor Strange?
Doctor Strange has a very unique costume with a very high collar and a red cape, based on the ancient robes of this organisation that he finds himself with. And yes, our incredibly talented visual development team used all of that as the basis for what will be embodied by Doctor Strange. It needed to be iconic in its own right. It needed to be very different from any of the other Avengers because Doctor Strange will most likely find himself standing one day next to Tony Stark, next to Thor, next to the other Avengers. So we wanted him to very much feel a part of the broader team and yet completely individualised and separate from anybody else.
What does Scott Derrickson bring as a director?
Scott Derrickson has a great body of work, and like Joe and Anthony Russo, like Joss Whedon, like Jon Favreau, like Kenneth Branagh, the best of the filmmakers we’ve worked with have not necessarily done a film like the one we’re asking them to do. But they’ve done enough that they’ve shown they’re incredibly talented. They have unique visions and a love of film and a love of pushing the boundaries of what a movie can be. If you look at Scott’s work going back to the earliest days to his most recent films, he’s always playing with the genre. He’s always subverting the genre. Sometimes he dives right into it, sometimes he twists it. That’s exactly what we love to do at Marvel.
What does the world of Doctor Strange give the audience as a big-screen experience?
This is a mind-trip that rivals any cinematic mind-trip that has ever been done before and has taken images out of the comics. Steve Ditko is one of the greatest Marvel artists in history, and it’s amazing that we’re now able to take what he did in the mid-’60s – these trippy comic panels and comic covers – and put those into big three-dimensional space on a movie screen. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has thrived for us at Marvel Studios. We just take what was great about the comics and unabashedly and without fear throw it up on the big screen. There are images and sequences in Doctor Strange that people are already calling the most breathtaking mind-trips that they’ve ever seen in a movie before. That was our challenge, and that’s what we think the team has risen to.
Doctor Strange opens on 25 October.
The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) teaches Strange a thing or two.
Don’t come if you get travel sickness easily.