Doctor Strange is a 2016 film set in the Earth-11584 continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is the third film in Phase 3 and the 18th film overall in the MCU. It is also the first solo film for the character of Doctor Strange, after the character made a cameo appearance in the previous year's Incredible Hulk 2, with Benedict Cumberbatch reprising the role. The film was critically lauded for its special effects, earning a nomination at the Academy Awards in that category, and went on to gross well over $650 million dollars at the worldwide box office.
Production of a Doctor Strange film had lingered throughout Marvel Studios since the beginning, as it was one of the few major characters that Marvel owned the rights to when Marvel Studios was first founded. It was among the slate of films that was originally planned in the first "Phase One" of Marvel Studios which would have culminated in a team-up film based on the Defenders, of which Strange is a member in the comics. When the rights to several Avengers characters came into Marvel's possession, however, the Doctor Strange solo movie was placed onto the back burner, only revived as part of the Phase 3 slate in early 2013 when director Scott Derrickson and screenwriters Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill were brought on board. Fan speculation immediately centered around Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch to play the title character, speculation that was confirmed in 2015 both by an announcement that winter as well as the character's surprise appearance in the end of The Incredible Hulk 2. It was also announced that Chiwetel Ejiofor was cast as Baron Mordo, with Michelle Yeoh playing The Ancient One. Jeremy Irons was cast in an unannounced role, which was later confirmed to be the voice of the Dread Lord Dormammu.
Filming on Doctor Strange began in July of 2015 and finished in November of that year. The massive post-production work took place until April of 2016.
In a small monastery inside Tibet, a group of ninja-like monks attack with deadly accuracy, folding space unto itself to form deadly blades to attack unsuspecting monks and other students without warning. They arrive at a Sanctuary inside the monastery, stealing the pages from a book and a small artifact from underneath a glass case. They are suddenly confronted by an Asian woman, who manages to hold off their sorcery with impressive feats of her own. The leader of the group, identifying himself as Xandu, says that she will not stop him from reclaiming what is rightfully his, nor will she stop the Dread Lord Dormammu.
In New York City, circa 2012, Dr. Stephen Strange is a neurosurgeon who is performing groundbreaking work in saving people's lives. He finishes up on his latest patient, when he is approached by a nurse from the ER. He rushes in to save a gunshot victim at the behest of his counterpart in the ER, Dr. Christine Palmer (and showing up his rival Dr. West in the process), Strange awkwardly deals with the victim's family and begrudgingly accepts their thanks. He rebukes Christine when she makes an offer for him to be her neurologist on call, saying that such work is really "beneath him and his genius." Christine replies, "and your wallet," which Strange replies with a chuckle and a nod.
A few days later, Strange is en route to a major conference where he is the keynote speaker. While he is driving at high speeds down a curving highway in the Hamptons, he answers a phone call from Dr. West, who is calling for his professional opinion on a case. He toys with West a bit over the phone, before agreeing to look at the X-rays, however his distraction causes him to drift into the other lane and clip another car, sending him tumbling down the cliffside and into the water below. Strange loses consciousness upon impact, but not before seeing his hands crushed and lacerated severely. When he wakes up, he finds his hands in casts and severely cut, with Christine staring over him. She explains that Dr. West did everything he could, but the nerve damage was too severe. Strange yells in agony over it all, and blames West for his condition.
Over the next several months, Strange fails to gain fine motor control back in his hands, spending millions of dollars on experimental treatments and consultations with doctors. One day, Christine comes over to find him sitting alone in his empty loft apartment, most of his belongings having been packed in the backpack at his feet, with much of it having been sold to continue to seek treatment, as he is being evicted from his luxury apartment. Christine says it's not all bad, and that he can come to live with her if he needs to. Strange blows her off, saying he has no need for her sympathy or her pity. She says very little in response, angrily leaving a folder of information of another patient she had heard of, a Jonathan Pangborn, who had been a quadriplegic and then somehow miraculously healed.
Elsewhere, Xandu and his followers perform a ritual inside a dilapidated church. They summon the visage of the dread lord Dormammu, and explain that they have obtained the first of the four pieces of the Wand of Watoomb. Dormammu, who appears mostly in shadow amidst the fire in the portal, explains that the Wand must be assembled to amplify the power of the summoning spell to its full potential. Only then can he be invited into our dimension and begin merging it with his own. Only then will Xandu get the price that he seeks, the restoration to life of his beloved. To accomplish this, he bestows the four disciples with enhanced powers, drawing power from his own Dark Dimension.
Strange confronts Pangborn on a basketball court, amazed that he can even move let alone play. Turns out Pangborn once sought Strange's help, but lacked the money to pay him. Pangborn initially turns him away, but something makes him take pity on Strange and he tells him of a place in Tibet called Kamer-Taj. Pangborn says if Strange can find it, then he might be able to find the answers he seeks. Strange uses the last of his money to fly to Tibet, seeking to find this mysterious Kamer-Taj, however he fails to find anyone who knows about it. Unbeknownst to him, he is stalked by a man in a green robe who overhears the term. In an alleyway, Strange sees a young woman being accosted by hoodlums. Reluctantly, Strange calls out to them to stop, but they ignore him. He does it again, standing up to them, and a fight breaks out. His hands are in no condition to fight them, and he is severely beaten by the thugs, until suddenly the beating stops. The robed man from before stands over the fallen Strange, his wounds having been healed, and offers him a hand up. Strange asks what the hell just happened, and the man replies, a test, leading him to Kamer-Taj.
In Kamer-Taj, Strange is introduced to the Ancient One, the Sorcerer Supreme of the Earth. He is initially skeptical at the idea of magic and other dimensions, until the Ancient One forces his astral form out of his body and sends him parading through a series of other dimensions all at once. Enthralled, Strange demands to be taught, but the Ancient One says he is far too arrogant and casts him out. Undeterred, Strange sits outside the entrance to the monastery (hidden amongst the buildings, though he can now see the entrance whereas he couldn't before). Inside, the robed man, identifying himself as Karl Mordo, points out that Xandu is still hunting for the other three pieces of the Wand of Watoomb, and that Strange could be useful. He is persistent if nothing else, still hanging by their door after three hours. Finally convinced, the Ancient One lets Strange in. Strange is assigned a room and opens his laptop, intending to write a letter of apology to Christine, but stopping himself short when he sees his scarred hands.
Over the next few months, Strange learns more about drawing power from alternate dimensions and using it to cast spells, as it were. Throughout his training, Strange attempts to think of what to write to Christine, but can't find the words to write to her. Despite some initial difficulty at forming a portal with his Sling Ring, Strange eventually gets the hang of the basics and is introduced to Wong, the librarian at Kamer-Taj. Wong allows Strange to gather some advanced books on spellcasting after he sees Strange's quick advancement. In time, the Ancient One shows Strange the Mirror Dimension, where they can fold space and matter without repercussions to the real world. Her lesson is cut short however by an alarm coming from London, which she quickly responds to. When Strange asks Mordo what is happening, he explains the story of Xandu. Xandu was once a disciple of the Ancient One, who came seeking the means to save his wife from certain death. However, the Ancient One could not stop the natural order of things, and Xandu's wife died from her illness. This drove him mad, and caused him to seek out a way to resurrect his wife. He is currently seeking an artifact called the Wand of Watoomb to that end, and he is stealing the various pieces of it from around the world. The Ancient One returns, saying that Xandu had attacked and stolen the piece from the London Sanctum.
In the library, Strange reads from one of the advanced books in the Ancient One's personal library known as the Book of Cagliostro, the book which Xandu had stolen pages from at the beginning of the film. There, he sees an image of an amulet known as the Eye of Agamotto, and then sees the actual amulet laying in a room just off the main library. He surreptitiously grabs the amulet and reads up on how to use it to control time, experimenting with a nearby apple that he had been eating. He then uses the amulet to restore the missing pages of the book, revealing some information to himself about Dormammu before he is stopped by Mordo and Wong. They chastise him for using the Eye of Agamotto, Mordo especially, before explaining Dormammu in greater detail. Dormammu is a Faltine Entity, one of a series of cosmic beings who were among the first lifeforms in existence. Eons ago they engaged in a Billion Years' War with another race known as the Celestials, a war which caused damage to the fabric of space/time and created "pocket dimensions" or other realms. When the Faltine lost the war, they were banished into these dimensions. Dormammu dwells in the Dark Dimension, seeking to merge his plane with our own. The rituals stolen by Xandu allow someone to contact Dormammu, but thankfully do not allow him free entry. However, with the Wand of Watoomb amplifying the power of the ritual, it could be enough to open a permanently stable portal for the merger process to begin. Strange says he never signed up for a war, but is cut off when the alarm from the New York Sanctum, containing part of the Wand, comes up. Strange is drafted into joining Mordo in trying to fight off Xandu and his disciples. In the course of the fight, Mordo is taken out early, leaving Strange alone to fend off two of Xandu's disciples at once. Strange is able to briefly hold his own, sending them both into the desert through a portal, but is overcome by the enhanced powers of Xandu himself, who can now warp reality to his will thanks to the power of Dormammu.
As Strange and Xandu fight, they come across a relic called the Cloak of Levitation, which seems to take a liking to Strange and helps him fight Xandu, maneuvering him into an inescapable chair that chains him together. Xandu explains his position about Dormammu, that the Dread Lord offers everything the Ancient One does not, namely eternal life and freedom from death. He can even revive those whom he wishes back from death, making them part of the One. When Strange tells Xandu that Dormammu is merely lying to him, Xandu insists that the only bond Dormammu has is his word, he cannot break a deal once he has entered into it. Strange doesn't buy it, until Xandu reminds him of the rituals that he saw in the Book of Cagliostro, and clues him in that the source of the Ancient One's immortality is drawing power from Dormammu, just as Xandu does. The argument is ended when the third disciple enters the room and sneaks up behind Strange, stabbing him with a folded space knife that they have been using as weapons.
Struggling to stay conscious, Strange runs from the other disciple, and the Cloak of Levitation buys him some time by smothering the disciple. Strange focuses and forms a portal to the nearby hospital where Christine works at. He gets her attention and she helps him into an operating room. He passes out on the table, and Christine prepares to use a defibrillator on him, but his astral form interrupts and startles her. He begins to guide her through the process of stopping the bleeding around his heart, but he is eventually confronted by the astral form of the other Disciple, who followed him through the portal. They fight throughout the hospital, their combined energies even reviving a man who was near the brink of death. Eventually Christine is forced to use the defibrillator, and the combined energy shock damages the Disciple. Strange pops in and tells her to do it again, and this time it destroys the Disciple's astral form, killing the empty body back in the Sanctum.
After Strange explains to Christine about Kamer-Taj and the Masters of the Mystic Arts, showing her the portal to the Sanctum, he returns to confront both Mordo and the Ancient One, finding that Xandu has escaped and taken the third piece of the Wand. He criticizes them both for being so cavalier about taking lives, something that he had sworn an oath not to do as a doctor. Mordo dismisses his concerns as the quibbling of a coward, while the Ancient One tries to explain their role in the Multiverse. Strange confronts her with the fact that she was stealing power from the Dark Dimension for her own personal gains. Mordo refuses to believe this as the Ancient One leaves to reinforce the Hong Kong Sanctum. Strange and Mordo argue more over this war, until Xandu attacks them both again without warning. Xandu and his remaining two disciples are ready to kill Mordo at one point, until Strange sends them to the Mirror Dimension to contain them. Unfortunately the powers of Xandu are amplified in the Mirror Dimension. Strange and Mordo run through the doppleganger city of New York, with buildings and roads being folded around them as Xandu attempts to kill them. The Ancient One returns and intercedes, holding her own with Xandu. But in the fight, the mark of Dormammu appears on her forehead, confirming to Mordo that Strange was telling the truth. The momentary distraction allows Xandu to attack suddenly, and stab the Ancient One through the abdomen before kicking her out a portal. Strange and Mordo follow behind, but can't stop her from falling several stories onto the concrete below.
Strange takes the Ancient One to Christine, trying to save her life. In one scene he tries to begin to operate on her, but realizes he can't and agrees to talk Dr. West through the procedure. However, when she flatlines, he notices her astral form leaving her body. He rushes after her in his Astral Form, and the two share a moment and lesson about bending the rules for the greater good of the Multiverse. The Ancient One also admits that she never healed Jonathan Pangborn, rather he continues to channel magic into his own body to overcome his handicap, something Strange himself could do if he chose. She laments such a possibility before she passes away. Disheartened, but knowing that he must assume her responsibility, Strange shares a moment with Christine and returns to Kamer-Taj. There he finds a disillusioned Mordo alone, Wong and the rest of the sorcerers having left to defend the final piece of the Wand in Hong Kong. Mordo states that the Ancient One was no different than Xandu, perverting nature to her needs. Strange tries to consul him with the idea of flexibility, but an alarm from Hong Kong breaks their discussion. They travel through a portal only to find Xandu assembling the Wand of Watoomb, the broken bodies of Wong and the rest of the sorcerers scattered around them. Xandu casts the ritual spell to the Dark Dimension, and the portal opens, beginning to spill out into the streets. When Mordo claims they are out of time, Strange gains inspiration and uses the Eye of Agamotto to stop and reverse time. While the reversion does bring Wong and the sorcerers back to life, Xandu is able to remove himself and his disciples from the effect. The groups fight to a stalemate, until Strange travels to the Dark Dimension himself.
Once inside the Dark Dimension, Strange casts a spell on himself using the Eye. He confronts Dormammu, claiming he wants to bargain, since Dormammu's word is his bond. Dormammu simply dismisses him, destroying Strange with little more than a thought. However, time reverts back to when Strange entered the Void, and the scene begins to replay out as before. Dormammu again kills Strange, frustrated, but again time reverses itself. Dormammu demands to know what is going on, and Strange explains that he has trapped them in a time loop. Dormammu kills Strange in frustration, coming up with more and more creative ways to kill the sorcerer. Eventually though, Dormammu gets fed up and demands to be set free, which Strange will agree to only if Dormammu never again tries to conquer their dimension and takes Xandu and his Disciples from the Earth. Dormammu agrees, with the addendum that Strange never again attempt to use this magic on him.
Strange returns to the Earth, and Xandu and his minions begin to phase out of our reality as Dormammu closes the portal to the Dark Dimension. Xandu says Dormammu gave him his word, and Dormammu summons the corpse of Xandu's wife, a faceless zombie who has no personality to keep him company in the Dark Dimension for all Eternity, as they all disappear. Strange finishes the time spell to repair the damage that had been done. Wong and Strange prepare to leave, when Mordo berates him for once again breaking natural law. Mordo refuses to continue as a sorcerer, and departs, surreptitiously taking the Wand with him.
In Kamer-Taj, Strange returns the Eye of Agamotto, Wong remarking that it is not wise to walk around with an Infinity Stone. They return to New York, the newly rechristened Sanctum Sanctorum rebuilt, with Strange eyeing his still shaking hands.
[Cut to the Sanctum Sanctorum where we see Doctor Strange, clad in his traditional attire, sitting in an armchair conversing with someone.]
Strange: Tea? Or something a little stronger perhaps?
[The camera swings around and reveals Thor sitting across from Strange.]
Thor: Stronger...if you can.
[The camera pans back and we see a mug of ale appear suddenly in front of Thor, who takes it warily.]
Thor: Since when does Earth have wizards?
Strange: Actually we prefer the term sorcerers and...for a while now. And as Earth's Sorcerer Supreme, I keep a list of beings from other dimensions, planets and realms that might be a threat to Earth. Turns out your brother Loki is right at the top of that list.
[Thor drains the mug of ale, only to be astonished as it refills itself before his very eyes.]
Thor: Probably a wise decision.
Strange: Yeah...so why exactly did you bring him here?
Thor: It's a long story really. Impersonated kings, enchantments and prophecies, all that stuff. But basically we just need to find my father before Ragnarok is upon us.
Strange: So...if you were to find Odin you would all return to Asgard...promptly?
Thor: Yes quite promptly.
Strange: Good to hear...allow me to assist you.
[Strange stands up and motions for Thor to follow him into a library as we cut to black.]
/ = / = / = /
[We fade in on a nameless machine shop, as a hooded man slowly saunters in. We see Jonathan Pangborn working at the shop, as he slowly looks up and sees Karl Mordo stalking through.]
Pangborn: Mordo? Why are you here?
Mordo: That is a very good question, Jonathan. Why are any of us here? It's a question I've thought long and hard about for a while now, and do you know what I've discovered?
[Pangborn slowly backs away from Mordo.]
Pangborn: Enlighten me.
Mordo: We are all of us living our lives according to the natural law. But Sorcerers...they pervert the natural law. They take power with no purpose...and use it for selfish, mindless pursuits. They bend the world to suit their needs, when they should simply accept things the way they are. Of course, you know all about that: stealing power for your own personal gain.
Pangborn: I don't know what you're talking about. This is my power. All my own.
Mordo: And that...is the gravest sin of all.
[Pangborn grabs a crowbar from behind and swings it at Mordo's head. The sorcerer easily ducks underneath and jabs Pangborn in the gut with the Wand of Watoomb, casting a spell with it. All at once Jonathan's legs go out from under him, and he loses all control of his hands as he crumbles to the ground in a heap. He tries in vain to stand up as Mordo casually dusts himself off.]
Pangborn: My magic?! What...What have...Why have you done this?
Mordo: Because, Jonathan...in the end...there are just too many sorcerers in this world.
[Cut to Black.]
Summary of Changes
- The fight at the start of the film does not ever leave Kamer-Taj, save for when it enters the Mirror Dimension. The Ancient One fights Xandu and his disciples in the sanctuary the whole time. Likewise, there is no pointless ritual murder at the start of the film either. The Ancient One is also played by Michelle Yeoh as opposed to Tilda Swinton.
- The film first takes place in 2012, just before The Avengers takes place. This establishes that Doctor Strange has been active in the MCU since around that time, explaining his cameo name drop in Winter Soldier as well as his appearance in a post-credits scene in Incredible Hulk 2.
- Kaecillius, who was little more than a minion of Mordo's in the comics, is replaced in this film by Xandu. Xandu is also given different motivation than Kaecillius; wanting to reunite with his dead wife.
- Xandu's means are not to destroy the three Sanctums (whose protective role in the Multiverse is never really explained in this film) but rather to assemble the four pieces of the Wand of Watoomb, an ancient artifact that amplifies the powers of spells cast.
- In this film, Stephen Strange appears to be more motivated by money than he is fame and personal glory.
- Dr. West is the person who contacts Stephen on the phone the night of the accident, rather than his lab assistant. He is also specifically stated to be the surgeon who operated on Dr. Strange, which causes a grudge to grow between the two.
- Strange is shown to be reduced to poverty in this film, as he is seen being evicted from his apartment.
- There is a scene where we see Dormammu in shadow, granting the powers to Xandu and his followers. This is similar to a deleted scene from the original Doctor Strange movie, though here we actually hear and see from the Dark Demon himself (voiced by Jeremy Irons rather than Benedict Cumberbatch in this film).
- Strange is tested by a test of character via illusion before Mordo takes him to Kamer-Taj.
- The fight in the Astral Dimension between Strange and the Disciple is more detailed, as we see a scene where their combined energies actually revive a near-dead patient (Stan Lee cameo, with his wife Joan).
- The bargain that Strange strikes with Dormammu includes a caveat that Strange never again use the Eye of Agamotto on Dormammu in his dimension. Dormammu also keeps his word to Xandu, reviving the corpse of his wife as a Faceless One within his dimension.
- Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange- A former neurosurgeon who, after losing the use of his hands in an automobile accident, becomes a student of the Ancient One in Kamar-Taj and is trained in the use of the Mystic Arts.
- Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer- An ER nurse at the hospital where Doctor Strange practices surgery and former love interest of his.
- Michelle Yeoh as The Ancient One- A nameless mystical sorcerer who has lived for hundreds of years and acts as Earth's Sorcerer Supreme, to defend it against threats of a mystical nature.
- Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo- Another disciple of the Ancient One, who acts as the field commander of the Masters of the Mystic Arts and a primary teacher of Doctor Strange.
- Mads Mikkelson as Xandu- A former disciple of the Ancient One, who now seeks the pieces of the Wand of Watoomb in order to hand it over to the Dark Demon Dormammu in exchange for restoring his beloved wife to life.
- Jeremy Irons as Dormammu- The ruler of the Dark Dimension who seeks to conquer our dimension through the use of disciples such as Xandu. Irons provides the voice of Dormammu, while Benedict Cumberbatch provided the motion capture work for the CGI character.
- Benedict Wong as Wong- The librarian at Kamar-Taj and a member of the Master of the Mystic Arts.
- Benjamin Bratt as Jonathan Pangborn- A former student at Kamar-Taj who uses his powers to constantly heal his own body now.
- Anthony Michael Hall as Dr. Nicodemus West- A rival doctor to Stephen Strange.
Zara Phythian, Alaa Safia and Katrina Durden portray the zealots of Xandu. Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as Thor in a post-credits scene. Stan Lee cameos as a near dead hospital patient who suddenly is brought to life by the astral energies of Doctor Strange. Joan Lee also cameos as the patient's wife.
The film received strong reviews from critics upon its release. The review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes scored the film at 89% with an average rating of 7.3/10 based on 314 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads, "Doctor Strange artfully balances its outré source material against the blockbuster constraints of the MCU, delivering a thoroughly entertaining superhero origin story in the bargain." Critics praised the performance of Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, and especially praised the visual effects, which would go on to receive an Oscar nomination. Some did criticize the lack of a strong villain yet again, and others criticized the portrayal of The Ancient One as a stereotypical Asian Guru-Master, though that criticism was tempered by the casting of a woman in the role.
The film opened with a weekend gross of $85.1 Million, easily beating Star Trek: Beyond for the #1 spot at the box office that weekend. The film would go on to gross $232.6 Million dollars en route to a worldwide total of $677.7 Million. This made the film the second highest grossing "introduction film" in the Marvel Cinematic Universe behind Guardians of the Galaxy.