“Doctor Strange”: Putting the Psychedelics on the Screen

The fourteenth instalment of the Marvel cinematic universe is here! As always Dr. Strange (2016) is a fresh and colourful piece of cinematic enjoyment. This time Marvel introduces us to neurosurgeon Stephen Strange and the world of magic.

After the name drop he got in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), doctor Stephen Strange comes to the silver screen in his stand-alone film. You might think “Really? Another origin story?”, but Marvel is still able to keep it interesting right from the start. The immense blockbuster budget allows the film studio to jump into the action right away with intricate and trippy fights between mysterious magicians, one of them played by renowned Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (who also stars in Maaike’s favourite TV show Hannibal, remember?).  The trailer already previewed some of the amazing, Inception-like visuals, but that is nothing compared to the amazing visual sorcery as seen in IMAX 3D. As always, jokes are continuously cracked in between all the serious hero business. Actor Benedict Cumberbatch loses his British accent for an American one, but still has his inherent British sass and charm as doctor Stephen Strange.

The makers of the movie drew well on its source material, the original Doctor Strange comics. The character dates back to July 1963, but it was not until 1974 that the stories became the plot that the movie is based on. Comics got a lot more colourful and trippy in the 70’s due to the rise of psychedelics, especially LSD. In Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Steve Engelhart admits that several artists wrote stories on acid. Consequently, a world of magic and mystery opened up in the new Doctor Strange issues. Strange enters the Eye of Agamotto, an ancient artefact also portrayed in the film, which gives him the equivalent of a bad trip. He travels through a psychedelic realm and even fights Death herself. These comics were greatly appreciated by potheads, due to its bright colours and deep storylines. Now director Scott Derrickson has translated that feeling to this fantastic film. With a tagline that states “Open your mind. Change your reality.” enough is said about the psychedelic nature of the film.

Despite its blockbuster nature, Doctor Strange still touches on some deeper themes such as responsibility and the passage of time. I spotted some highly ironic moments where the tables completely turn for Strange and he gets a piece of his own pie smashed into his face by his opponent. One of the most common criticisms that Marvel receives is their “cardboard” villains, the one out of a dozen “I want to destroy the world for some simple reason”-type adversaries. Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) is a relatively flat villain and fits that image once again. However, a twist in the end provides a more interesting opponent for Strange, requiring him to come up with a creative way to defeat him.

If you like stunning CGI visuals and a new origin story or you are just a Cumberbitch, go see Marvel’s superhero spectacle!

Bram Medelli, Class of 2018, is an Arts & Humanities major, from Groesbeek, the Netherlands.

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