Marvel Studios' Doctor Strange aims to reveal a different side to the Marvel Cinematic Universe; not only by taking moviegoers on a dive head-first into the realms of mysticism and magic in the MCU, but also by embracing a colorful and at times downright, well, strange visual aesthetic compared to MCU films past. Much has been made of the trippy imagery featured throughout the movie's marketing campaign to date, as it takes its cues in particular from the iconic Doctor Strange artwork by the Marvel comic book legend, Steve Ditko. According to the filmmakers behind this MCU installment though, what we've been shown thus far is simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Doctor Strange's weirdest elements.
Although Doctor Strange is described as being properly rooted in magic and the supernatural in ways that no MCU movie has before, its visions of alternate realities and dimensions appears to have some basis in what the cosmos in real life are now known to look like, thanks to the advances in space photography over the years. At the same time though, Doctor Strange certainly has more than a touch of extra psychedelic coloring to make it feel more fantastical and "out there" than even the actual vast reaches of the universe.
For case in point, check out Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson's description of a particularly "weird" moment from the film - followed by a screenshot from that same sequence (revealed exclusively by EW):
“It is the section of the movie that is most directly inspired by the ‘60s and ‘70s Doctor Strange comic book, specifically the Steve Ditko panels that were very psychedelic, and also a blacklight poster from 1971 that I have hanging above my desk at home. It’s also the banner on my Twitter feed. So those are the visual inspirations for that space and it is all taken directly from the Marvel comic universe.”
Derrickson also spoke with EW about wanting to not only create unconventional superhero movie visuals with Doctor Strange, but also set pieces and action sequences alike:
“The general approach is to do set pieces that haven’t been done before. As an audience member, watching superhero movies, I have an appetite to see new kinds of images. When it comes to visual effects, with the big budget movies, it seems like — outside of extreme versions of gunfights, and explosions, and general destruction — there’s not a lot of creativity. You know, we can do anything, and yet this combat and destruction seems to be all that gets done. I really thought Doctor Strange deserved more than that. I thought it deserved to be at least an attempt to do things that are new, and to use the capability of modern visual effects in a way that told the origin story of Doctor Strange, and took that character into an interesting place, but also provide an audience with a lot of things that are unexpected. That was always the goal for me.”
Although Doctor Strange's visuals have (arguably) fairly drawn comparisons to those from such movies as Inception and the collective works of The Wachowski Sisters (The Matrix movie trilogy, Jupiter Ascending), the film's imagery is admittedly something never really seen in the MCU before; save for that brief glimpse at the Quantum Realm in Ant-Man, anyway. Based on the reactions to the 15-minute Doctor Strange preview that was shown in IMAX theaters, this is also one film that cannot be properly judged, based on the merits of its visuals and cinematography, until it has been seen in at least a regular theater, if not on an IMAX screen.
Indeed, however the filmgoing masses respond to Doctor Strange in general - including, such elements as Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as Stephen Strange and the film's (controversial) interpretation of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) - the visual style ought to be one of the better-received elements, based on everything that has been shown thus far.
Doctor Strange opens November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man: Homecoming – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; Avengers: Infinity – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel– March 8, 2019; Untitled Avengers – May 3, 2019; and as-yet-untitled Marvel movies on July 12, 2019, and on May 1, July 10, and November 6 in 2020.