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We are now just a few weeks away from the release of director Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange, but last night fans across the country got a special early look at the blockbuster. In IMAX theaters, fans were treated to a full 15-minutes' worth of footage from the film, showcasing moments from the beginning, middle and climactic finale. I personally attended one of the screenings in Los Angeles -- and if you don't wish to know details about the scenes, you may want to click away to another one of our articles now, because I'm recapping the whole thing!
Set to the guitar rhythms of Beck's "Soul of a Man," the Doctor Strange footage began with the titular hero (Benedict Cumberbatch) back in his days before becoming Sorcerer Supreme -- operating as the world's most gifted and famous neurosurgeon. Through walk-and-talk conversations through hospital hallways with Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), we immediately get a sense of Dr. Stephen Strange's arrogance. While she is proud of her work saving lives in the Emergency Room alongside "Nic" (presumably Michael Stuhlbarg's Nicodemus West), Strange sees no value in it compared to the advanced cases he takes on in hopes of advancing his field and paving new research paths. Christine sees his egotism right through these excuses (noting that ER work doesn't create opportunities to appear in CNN), and rebuffs his questions about whether or not she is dating Nic by explaining her "Strange Policy" regarding dating co-workers.
While the footage is overlaid with clips of Dr. Strange working his magic in the operating room, he asks Christine if she wants to go to a speaking engagement he's attending that night. It's clear that the two have a history, as he explains that they used to have fun together, by Christine notes that only he had fun because the speaking engagements were all about him. Later that night, we watch as Strange gets dressed to the nines in his beautiful-but-empty apartment, and he exits his home driving off at top speed in his sleek grey Porsche.
Driving along a curvy mountainside (still at top speed), Strange takes a call from his assistant, and asks about the potential cases that he has the option of taking. The first is a 35-year-old Marine Colonel who was injured while using experimental armor -- deemed too easy, as there are many other surgeons who could take on the case. The second is a woman with some kind of serious brain issue -- and apparently it's too risky for Strange to risk his surgical statistics. The last case is a schizophrenic girl with a chip in her head who has been struck by lightning, and it's this one that catches the doctor's attention. He has his assistant send him the MRI scans in his car, but this winds up being a huge mistake, as it proves to be enough of a momentary distraction for Strange to lose control of his vehicle and go careening off a cliff.
Particularly notable in this sequence are two things: the first is the shocking sight of seeing Dr. Strange's hands completely impale the dashboard of his car, which, of course, winds up being a hugely important event that winds up shaping the rest of the film's narrative. The second is that the 3D in the car crash sequence is fantastic. As the camera swirls through the wreckage in slow-motion, glass flies out of the audience as a cool effect, and it winds up being impressively immersive as a result.
The Doctor Strange footage then jumped in time to the hero's time in Tibet -- specifically his first meeting with The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Strange has clearly become a desperate man, but that desperation does nothing to cull his cynicism when the mystical leader presents him with an image of chakra centers (which he claims to see all the time at gift shops), and what he immediately identifies as a simple full body MRI scan. The Ancient One explains that both represent different parts of the same whole, but that the artist couldn't see the rest of the picture, and Strange begins to throw a tantrum, saying that he spent his last dollar to get there, and that there is no such thing as the power of belief. This limited thinking is admonished by the master of the mystic arts, as it's questioned why a man who has spent his entire life trying to expand his mind would reject the possibility of expanding it beyond anything he's ever imagined. The arrogant former doctor gets aggressive and pessimistic, acknowledging his existence is nothing but a mere speck in the grand scope of things, and as he pronounces "I see through you!," he pokes The Ancient One's chest. It's at this time that he witnesses the first sample of her power.
The Ancient One responds in kind to Dr. Strange's chest poking with a respectable show of force -- but the result is much more than Strange being blown backwards. Instead, he finds that his soul has entirely left his body, and he his hanging in the air watching his own body fall in slow motion. After a moment, this spirit returns to its home -- but the doctor is left confused and convinced that there was some kind of drug in his tea. The Ancient One explains that his astral form had merely been released from his physical form, allowing him to temporarily access the astral dimension. This is enough to send Strange's mind into a tizzy... but he has no idea what is in store. The Ancient One urges him to "open [his] eye," and with a hand placed on his forehead Strange is propelled to worlds beyond imagination.
What followed in the Doctor Strange footage is really hard to describe, because it was basically insane visual splendor. Screaming all the way through, Strange is throttled through dimension after dimension, each one looking stranger and more vivid than the last -- more often than not clearly inspired by the art of Steve Ditko back in the early 1960s when the central character made his debut in Marvel Comics. We see worlds with completely different physical laws, and all kinds of mind-blowing imagery -- from Strange repeatedly exploding into shards and then splashing into his own eye (again, hard to fully explain), to Strange looking at his hands and seeing more hands grow off his fingers, and hands grow off those fingers, and so on. The only interruption to this crazy action is voice over from Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) suggesting that Strange's body is experiencing extreme stress, but The Ancient One brings him back, deems him perfectly fine, and then sends him back on his journey through the infinite multiverse. When Strange is finally brought back, exhausted and astonished, The Ancient One quips, "Have you seen that before in a gift shop?" to which he responds, "Teach me!"
From there we get a brief look at Doctor Strange's stay in Tibet and his path towards ultimately becoming the Sorcerer Supreme.. This include a funny moment where Baron Mordo is setting Strange up in his living quarters (complete with giving over the "Shamballa" Wi-Fi password), and the introduction of Wong (Benedict Wong), who is the keeper of the library in The Ancient One's training facility. Strange tries to have a bit of fun with his future sidekick by mocking the fact that he doesn't have a last name -- making comparisons to Adele, Aristotle, Drake, Bono and Eminem. These jokes are met with a stone-faced reaction, as Wong explains that his duty is to protect the books in the library with deadly force if necessary. Strange responds with a sarcastic question about overdue fees... and once again getting no reaction complains that people used to think he was funny. To this Wong replies, "Did that work for you?"
As Soundgarden's "Blow Up The Outside World" takes over the soundtrack, the Doctor Strange footage then kicked into a different gear -- moving past the origin story and into discussions and revelations about the threats that the caped magician will have to face off against. Wong explains that it's the Avengers job to protect the world from physical danger, but it's the responsibility of the Ancient One's disciples to safeguard against mystical threats -- and it's presented that the idea of a multiverse with infinite possibilities also means infinite threats.
The Ancient One explains to Doctor Strange that the information she is keeping from him would lead him to flee the room in terror, as the footage provided a glimpse of Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson) for the first time. He threatens that he and his followers don't intend to just control the world, but end it -- and it's at this point that we got an extended glimpse of what will probably be the film's big third act action sequence, complete with New York City basically folding in on itself. While nobody other than the magically inclined seem to notice the effects, this basically completely changes the laws of physics as Doctor Strange and Baron Mordo navigate through the random ups and downs and ins and outs out the landscape. This includes running across the side of a skyscraper, falling sideways as the world turns, falling through a train, and then landing on the flat ground. As the world turns again, however, Strange and Mordo find themselves falling and slamming into the side of a bus -- which has Stan Lee as a passenger reading a copy of "The Doors Of Perception" by Aldous Huxley and having a good laugh.
The last third of the Doctor Strange material was a lot more montage-y than the first two thirds (for spoiler-phobic reasons, surely), but it showcased some pretty cool moments as well. In addition to two quick sequences that suggested a role for the villainous Dormammu in the film, we also saw a couple of impressive showdowns between the titular hero and Kaecilus. This included a scene where the villain kicks Strange over a ledge, and he is saved by his Cloak of Levitation; and a sequence on the street where the master magician uses his Eye of Agamotto to not only avoid an attack from Kaecilus, but also reverse time and a whole lot of damage to New York. Following the title treatment, the footage also bookended with a fun little sequence between a magically-trained Doctor Strange and Christine Palmer, who seems to be convinced that her friend has joined a cult... and he has a hard time convincing her otherwise.
After seeing the footage, I do personally still have some reservations about the origin story aspects of Doctor Strange and the way in which it balances it with a fulfilling antagonist narrative -- but I am also now more excited for the movie than ever before. It was honestly hard not to let my jaw just drop while watching Strange's first journey through the multiverse, and by the time he was brought back to terra firma I just didn't want it to end. A mix of thrilling, terrifying, exciting, and mind-bending, the magical aesthetic that Scott Derrickson and his team have created make me hope that the film does its very best to try and overload my brain with those visuals. Mixed with some exciting 3D utilization, the film has a very good chance of being Marvel's most eye-popping feature to date.
For those of you who didn't get to make it out to the Doctor Strange IMAX footage screening last night, the good news is that you won't have to wait much longer to see the full finished product. The blockbuster is now just a few weeks away from hitting theaters, set to arrive on November 4th. In the meantime, be sure to stay tuned here on Cinema Blend, because we have a whole lot more Doctor Strange coverage coming your way!