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The following contains minor spoilers for Doctor Strange.
This weekend saw the debut of Marvel's newest big screen hero. While Doctor Strange was another in a long line of characters, the film did some new and original things with the Marvel formula that the rest of the MCU should be taking note of. After going through numerous Marvel movies where the hero and villain settled their differences simply by figuring out which one can punch harder, Doctor Strange used the film's reality bending structure to completely change the game when it came to the action. After having seen it, we simply can't go back.
Even before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a thing, the standard for comic book action scenes were set by films like Spider-Man and X-Men. The fight scenes were all choreographed well and each allowed the heroes and villains to use all of their superpowers and show off what they were capable of. The MCU, Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy and the DCEU have all continued this trend. They've made some visually impressive fight scenes to be sure, but that's all they really are. Two big guys punching or shooting each other.
Doctor Strange, however, does things differently. A great deal of the shift comes from the introduction of magic to the story, but it isn't simply that. If the magic had only been used as a way to assist a physical fight we would have fallen back into the same sort of rut that Marvel fights have been in. While there are certainly elements of that taking place, we also get innovative action sequences that use the elements of magic for different sorts of action sequences entirely. The reality-bending that takes place on the streets of New York City is mostly a chase scene without much in the way of physical contact, but it's a revelation if compared to, say, the tunnel chase in Captain America: Civil War.
To be clear, this isn't simply an argument that Marvel needs to add magic to all future films. That wouldn't work for a number of reasons. While there will surely be places where magic makes sense in the future of the MCU, shoehorning it where it doesn't belong would only harm those films. Also, simply adding more magic would cause that style to lose its luster. The key to what Doctor Strange did was that they used the tools they had at their disposal to do something only they could do.
We've seen hints of this in the past. Ant-Man's climactic battle that took place among children's toys at least set the battle someplace unique that could only really work in an Ant-Man movie, even if the fight itself was a little by the numbers.
The rest of the MCU needs to learn from this example. An action sequence between Spider-Man and the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming should be about as bound by gravity as anything in Doctor Strange. They could choreograph a ballet in the air that could be something we've truly never seen before. Simply placing their traditional fight scene on a high rooftop, where they punch away, would be a waste of an opportunity.
Doctor Strange did a great job of creating a new world where the could bend reality to suit the needs of the fight scenes. Future movies could do something similar even if magic wasn't involved. Through unique effects and camera work they could make us feel like we're in another world in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. where nearly anything is possible.
The other reason this worked so well in Doctor Strange is that we had no preconceived notions of the character. When Marvel introduces new characters they will be in the best possible place to offer not just new actors but new effects and new ideas. The possibilities for Captain Marvel could be nearly limitless. We know next to nothing about what that film could bring but the hero is one unlike any other we've seen so far. A character like Black Panther might have a more difficult time, his list of powers and abilities are a bit make him a more traditional fighter in the vein of Captain America or The Winter Soldier, but hopefully the production is working on ideas. If they can find a way to use those traditional abilities in a non-traditional way Black Panther could be the film that really changes how action is done at Marvel Studios.
Existing Marvel franchises need to look at what they can do and come up with creative ways of using their characters to do things they haven't done before. For some of the more traditional heroes, this could be more difficult, but it's important that it be done. If the climactic battle of Avengers: Infinity War is simply a larger version of the airport sequence, we'll have lost a huge opportunity.
As much as I loved the airport fight scene in Captain America: Civil War, what made it special was it's size, not really anything that took place within it. That style of action scene simply isn't going to be good enough going forward. The bar has been raised on comic book action movies.
Of course, the problem is that all of next year's Marvel films, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok have all completed filming at this point, so we're already stuck with whatever they've decided to give us. We need to hope that Marvel knew what they were doing with Doctor Strange was going to change things, and scripted the rest of Phase 3 accordingly.
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