Just looking at Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange inspires subconscious recall in even the most casual movie-goer. The character itself is a Marvel pastiche of D.C.’s sorcerer Doctor Fate, who may be more familiar to the millions of teenagers who have been watching “The Justice League” animated series over the last 15 years. (Marvel did give Strange his own animated series in 2007 but didn’t achieve the same ubiquity.) And while we did enjoy the latest cinematic rest stop on the road to Avengers:Infinity War (you fill up and feel refreshed but it’s definitely not where you want things to end) we got more than a passing sense of déjà vu while watching Doctor Strange.
Here are 6 movies that Marvel’s sorcerer supreme origin story may have absorbed into its DNA.
Batman Begins (2005)
It seems that it’s a theme for privileged white men in despair to seek the counsel of those beyond their borders. In Batman Begins billionaire Bruce Wayne discards all of his worldly possessions in search of enlightenment and his journey takes him to the Far East where he trains with the League Of Shadows. Doctor Strange pretty much walks the same path, except the only thing he’s trying to fight his is own obsolescence. Eager to repair his damaged hands the wealthy neurosurgeon spends his last penny in search of help that is outside the limits of modern medicine.
The Matrix (1999)
It’s obvious that the Wachowski’s borrowed heavily from Eastern philosophy and martial arts for their post apocalyptic sci-fi fantasy where human beings become batteries for sentient machines. But there are so many visual signifiers to the 1999 noir classic tucked in the trailer to Doctor Strange alone. The Doctor’s initial meeting with The Ancient One apes the dojo “I know Kung Fu” scene shamelessly. And the revelation from this “teacher” about the spiritual world “beyond the one he knows” is right out of the Morpheus handbook.
Man With The Iron Fists (2012)
I know, I know but hear me out. In this martial arts flick RZA is a 19th Century blacksmith named…Blacksmith…who has his hands amputated for refusing to be a snitch. With the tools of his trade removed he is forced to adapt to his new metal appendages. We’re still not sure how he uses the bathroom but Doctor Stephen Strange finds himself in a very similar predicament when an auto accident leaves his hands crushed and nerves damaged beyond repair. The unyielding desire to regain his surgeon’s skill set is what leads him to the mountains of Nepal in search of a the Ancient One.
This is the most obvious of the “allusions.” The 2010 sci-fi thriller directed by Christopher Nolan pushed the visual envelope in how it represented the distortion of reality. The high tech dream warriors inhabited worlds within worlds and would fold entire city blocks onto themselves like playing the Sims on acid. However, Inception did not have the benefit of being released in iMax 3D, which definitely takes the feel of architectural origami up several notches in Doctor Strange.
First off, this is nowhere near as limited as the 1997 film about the revenant assassin who sells his soul to the devil. But Strange’s “Cloak of Levitation” and its imbued personality definitely made me think of Spawn’s symbiotic chains and cape.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Doctor Strange may supplant Star Lord as the most obsessive music fan in the MCU. He opens the film performing an operation while playing Chuck Mangione song trivia and he later convinces a very staunch and sullen character to secretly succumb to the majesty that is Beyonce.
Nevertheless, Doctor Strange does stand on its own as a fun flick that will take a spot above some of the more established films in the MCU (i.e Thor 1 and 2, and the Iron Man sequels) in the fan pecking order. Despite its reliance on familiar tropes to bring us closer Doctor Strange has a charm all its own.