The Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to get Strange. While the ever-expanding superhero universe has gotten weird with it before — there’s Guardians of the Galaxy‘s playful peculiarity and Ant-Man‘s journey to the Quantum Realm — Doctor Strange is taking the MCU to new head-trip heights with the story of the brilliant neurosurgeon Steven Strange turned Sorcerer Supreme. After a devastating car crash, Strange sets out to find unconventional means of recovery and that sets him on the path to The Ancient One and the Kamar-Taj where he learns the mind-bending mysteries of interdimensional magic and comes up against the villainous “man of ideas” Kaecillius, who threatens our very fabric of reality.
Earlier this year, I visited the sets of Doctor Strange at Longcross studios just outside of London where I spoke with the cast and crew, got an up-close look at the intricate costumes and props, and spied The Ancient One on the steps of Kamar-Taj. Between shots, I joined a small group of journalists in chatting with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, and the Sorcerer Supreme himself, Benedict Cumberbatch. While there, we also spoke with MCU head Kevin Feige, costume designer Alexandra Byrne, production designer Charles Wood, prop master Barry Gibbs, and director Scott Derrickson, and hoo boy did we learn a lot of goodies along the way. While there’s lots to be found in the full interviews posted in the links at the bottom of this article, I’ve crystallized the biggest takeaways into a (somewhat) concise list of 45 things you should know.
- When Derrickson first met with Marvel, they had a set of thematic ideas in mind, but the realm of story ideas was still very open. He credits his interest in the thematic ideas with getting him the job.
Derrickson describes the collaboration process as being between himself, his crew, Kevin Feige, and producer Stephen Broussard, with “no middlemen”.
- Derrickson kept expecting someone to draw the line on the set pieces and say ” It’s too bizarre. It’s too weird. We can’t, it’s too, we’re going too far.” But instead, they crossed that line and just kept going.
- It was important to Derrickson that they didn’t try to explain away the magic with science. However, per Feige, Western science is definitely used as a point of reference to help Strange (and the audience) draw a parallel.
- He also felt the “burden of popular magic movies” like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, which he says present magic in a “traditional” way, when trying to come up trying to come up with magic imagery and action that had not been seen in cinema before.
- Along those lines, he wanted to avoid magic fighting to be just casting bolts of light at each other, saying “We’ve been drawing on the Emperor in Star Wars for over 30 years.”
- Doctor Strange has a martial arts influence, both because that’s the type of action Derrickson likes and because it “is the kind of action that [ties] in well with the supernatural.”
- Derrickson calls Doctor Strange his favorite comic book character and the only one he would feel “personally suited to work on”
- In particular, he credits his longstanding love for Doctor Strange from the “fantastical visual imagery”, particularly the early Steve Ditko art. Feige also points to Ditko’s art as a huge inspiration.
- He says he has picked up a lot of images from Ditko, Into Shamballa and The Oath.
- Thematically, he was attracted to the loneliness of the character who goes through so much trauma and exists in the lonely position between our world and other worlds. As he’s gotten older, his continued love for the character stems out of Strange’s transformation through suffering.
Derrickson says the film definitely has a thread of humor because “It’s Benedict, how can it not be funny?”
- He describes the tone as closer to Winter Soldier, which is a drama with some funny one-liners, than Guardians of the Galaxy.
- Coincidentally, he lists those titles as his two favorite Marvel films.
- Doctor Strange introduces “Sling Rings”: brass knuckle type magical accessories that are used as a focus point to create portals.
- Alexandra Byrne designed each sling ring to be unique to the character wearing.
- Derrickson stayed tight-lipped on his villain, Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius, but he teased that he wanted a character that was rooted in the real world so there would be an “intimate relatability” between Strange and his adversary.
- He describes Kaecilius as a “man of ideas”, saying his favorite villain is John Doe in Seven.
- Kaecilius believes that the Ancient One isn’t being truthful in her magical teachings by withholding secrets that shouldn’t be withheld. He and his follower believe that it’s not necessarily a bad thing if other dimensions absorb our own and it could lead to benefits like immortality.
- Byrne designed a number of different costumes to represent the progressive stages of training at KamarTaj. We’ll see Doctor Strange wear many of them as he moves up the ranks.
- Strange’s iconic cloak had to be slightly tweaked for on-camera action because its comic book design requires a collar so high you wouldn’t be able to see the actor’s face.
- Cumberbatch calls Strange’s Cloak of Levitation “a dear friend”, but says it can become the Cloak of Limitations because of how often it limits his movements or causes him to trip.
- Cumberbatch was attracted to the idea of joining such a massive franchise and finding out “what the toy box was like”.
- He had never read the comics before developing in interest in the project, saying he was “never geeky about anything”.
Strange doesn’t exactly learn humility over the course of the film (Cumberbatch says he’s “still quite cocky by the end”), but he learns that there’s a greater good and it’s not all about him. He also says Strange becomes more lonely by the end.
- The film’s take on Wong decidedly leaves the manservant, sidekick elements out of the character. Instead, he’s a master of the arts and protector of the ancient texts. Strange begins as his disciple.
- Benedict Wong is happy to see the “tea-making duties” go.
- Per Benedict Wong, Wong is more of a superior in this film and the more intimate nature of his comic book relationship with Strange would likely unfold in future films.
- At one point, there was a prologue to the film that took place in CERN (a nuclear research organization with the largest particle physics lab in the world).
- Feige says this is very much a standalone introduction to Doctor Strange and his world and “if you didn’t know this movie was connected to 13 movies before it, nothing in this movie would indicate that’s the case.
- According to Feige, the logic behind the fact that the scorecers haven’t turned up to save the day in previous Marvel films is that they “have bigger fish to fry”.
- While Doctor Strange pulls from The Oath tonally, it’s not an adaptation of that story.
- Feige says they intentionally wanted to keep Strange’s love interest (Rachel McAdams’ fellow surgeon, Christine Palmer) grounded for the first film.
- As for why they didn’t introduce Clea, who many assumed McAdams was playing at first, Feige added,”we thought that an interdimensional girlfriend that’s the daughter of an interdimensional demonesque creature was a step too far in introducing this world.”
- Feige says Doctor Strange is “of course” not a horror movie, but it does channel Derrickson’s ability to keep on foot completely in the real world with the other foot in the supernatural.
- Doctor Strange will likely maintain his somewhat distant relationship with the Avengers as he does in the comics, only popping up when threats get bigger and bigger.
- Tilda Swinton says the whole approach to the Ancient One is about “Fluidity”. “we’re trying not to be fixed to any one thing, any one gender, any one spiritual discipline, and any one race even.”
- Swinton says The Ancient One is very invested in Strange because she needs a successor, “or you could say, a son.” She says it’s a “primal relationship”.
The Ancient One has a set of ornate fans as her signature weaponry.
- Swinton says that, while the KamarTaj is a world of magical learning, the film finds the very practical it that is functional in the modern world.
- The original design for the Eye of Amagotto was completely different what they ended up with in the film. Prop Master Barry Gibbs explained, “it went from something quite a simple operation to a design that needed greater thought into it” because the script dictated more requirements.
- The runes on the Eye of Amagotto are based on an alphabet from the graphic department and are meant to act as a sort of control that allows Strange to execute different abilities.
- The Mordo in the film is not an enemy of Strange’s but an ally. Derrickson very intentionally wanted to veer away from making him an “Arch” character.
- Strange starts out as a pupil Mordo champions and it develops into something “richer and deeper” from there. They share camaraderie,mutual respect, and a shared bond with The Ancient One.
- Ejiofor doesn’t see Mordo as a jealous or envious character, explaining that “he’s much purer than that” and he’s deeply committed to the protection and defense of Kamar-Taj.
Catch up with all our coverage from the Doctor Strange set visit in the links below and stay tuned for more.
- ‘Doctor Strange’: Why the Sorcerers of the Kamar-Taj Haven’t Intervened in the MCU Until Now
- ‘Doctor Strange’: Benedict Cumberbatch on His Strange Journey to Becoming the Sorcerer Supreme
- How ‘Doctor Strange’ Is Handling Magic and How it Ties in with The Quantum Realm
- Kevin Feige on Why ‘Doctor Strange’ Has the Most Interesting Character Arc since Iron Man
- ‘Doctor Strange’: New Character Posters Introduce the Sorcerers of the Kamar-Taj
- ‘Doctor Strange’: Scott Derrickson on Making a Mystical Martial Arts Movie and Keeping it Strange
- ‘Doctor Strange’: 45 Things to Know About Marvel’s Biggest Spectacle Yet