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‘Doctor Strange’: How Filmmaker Scott Derrickson Went Mystical With the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Horror maven Scott Derrickson has unlocked a supernatural dimension with Benedict Cumberbatch as the latest Marvel superhero.

“Doctor Strange”


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By introducing magic and mysticism to the MCU, “Doctor Strange” further enriches and expands its arsenal of diverse superheroes and distinct worlds. And for horror maven Scott Derrickson (“Sinister,” “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”), it became a creative journey of discovery.

The director not only got to play with the supernatural martial arts genre, but also dabble in exorcising the demons of the suave and arrogant neurosurgeon (the latest eccentric genius played by Benedict Cumberbatch). Strange is forced to look inward and open his mind spiritually after a car accident destroys the use of his hands.

READ MORE: ‘Doctor Strange’ Review: Marvel’s Mind-Bending New Superhero Movie Is Their Best Since ‘The Avengers’

“I’m as unlikely a Marvel director as James Gunn [‘Guardians of the Galaxy’] or the Russo Brothers [‘Avengers: Infinity War,’ ‘Captain America: Civil War,’ ‘Winter Soldier’], but, for me, it provided a more positive approach to horror with a little bit more flair,” Derrickson told IndieWire.

“But if you take the horror out, the character drama should still be a good movie. And I took the same approach to this. There is a thematic tapestry underneath this movie about dramatic ideas that isn’t forced,” Derrickson said.

"Doctor Strange"

“Doctor Strange”

Courtesy of Disney

Strange travels to Kathmandu, where he’s trained to harness magic and enter other dimensions from The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), As the new chosen one, he battles her protege, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who’s been drawn to the Dark Dimension and poses a threat to Earth.

You’ll surely recognize tropes from “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter” and “Inception,” yet grounded in a fresh take on the struggle between ego and self-sacrifice.

“I went into the process with an open mind,” Derrickson said. “Trauma and pain and suffering can be the very thing that dislodges a person from themselves both in awful ways and larger ways that force one to reckon with one’s own life.

“In this case, Strange was very happy,” he continued. “He had everything he ever wanted: success, money, charm. But he didn’t have love and he didn’t have depth of meaning. He lost the American Dream and as a result goes on this spiritual journey to get his hands back. But what he gets instead is that his ego is too great in service to other people. That was wonderful to think about.”

"Doctor Strange"

“Doctor Strange”

And Derrickson was overjoyed at the effectiveness of Cumberbatch in tapping the essence of the comic book superhero: a New Yorker who’s nowhere near as sheltered as his neurotic sleuth from Baker Street.

“I shared a concern if I was going to get Sherlock Holmes with a cloak,” Derrickson said. “But if I were to watch ‘Sherlock’ today, I would see no resemblance.”

Visually, “Doctor Strange” offers a psychedelic, mind-bending, “Magical Mystery Tour” along with an “Inception”-inspired set piece that takes Christopher Nolan’s conceit of folding buildings to another level.

READ MORE: Kevin Feige Talks Difficulty Casting Benedict Cumberbatch In ‘Doctor Strange,’ Rachel McAdams’ Role, And More

“I thought that ‘Inception’ was the tip of a visual effects iceberg,” the director said. “But that movie was six years ago, and I loved the idea of taking that further. I stood on the shoulders of Christopher Nolan for that set piece, just as he stood on the shoulders of ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ for the snow mobile shoot out scene. That’s what we do as filmmakers: we build off each other.”

The same with utilizing Strange’s Cloak of Levitation: “I always liked the idea in ‘Potter’ that you don’t choose the wand — the wand chooses you, and that relics decide when you’re ready to handle them. I’m a cinephile first and a filmmaker second and it’s all swimming in the subconscious.”

“Doctor Strange” opens on Friday, November 4.

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