Marvel Studios has been flying with repulsors at 100% since Iron Man soared across the big screen for the first time nearly a decade ago.
That first film about a brilliant enfant terrible and his journey to become a beloved hero has turned into an expansive cinematic universe that has made BILLIONS at the box office, engaged millions of fans, and become the template creating successfull superhero blockbusters.
However, Iron Man was considered a HUGE risk back in 2007. Without the name recognition of A-list heroes like Spider-Man, Captain Amarica, or the X-Men the pressure director John Favreau was under to turn the $150 million gamble into a hit was immense.
That gamble paid off. The film was a perfect storm of talent, vision and timing. Audiences cheered both the arrival of a more flawed and self-aware hero as well as as the triumphant return of the actor who filled the armor, Robert Downey Jr.
Iron man rocketed to a superhero-sized $318 million box-office haul and set the stage for a bigger cinematic universe.
One of the biggest reasons Iron Man worked was because the film was truly different than anything moviegoers had seen before. From the AC/DC soundtrack to the differing timelines, it was fresh and delivered a memorable ending that left audiences cheering for more Black Sabbath-themed action with Iron Man.
Marvel is at its best when it takes risks and the success Guardians Of The Galaxy in 2014 is another prime example of that.
Few predicted that movie would be the monster hit it became, but it followed the blueprint laid out by Iron Man -- find a director with a vision, give them the power to see it through and cast the best people for the role -- to become a galactic blockbuster.
Doctor Strange is another massive risk for Marvel -- one that is the studio's most important yet.
A New Era Begins
Why is it so important? Because Doctor Strange expands the MCU into new territory to explore in upcoming films and if the idea of magic, alternate realities and a multiverse don't fly then Marvel's plans for Infinity War and beyond fall to ruin.
Doctor Strange is the movie and the man whom Marvel has pinned its hopes to launch their next phase of films.
If you read on, do so at your risk because spoilers WILL be discussed!
Doctor Strange is an excellent movie, much like Iron Man was 8 years ago.
The origin story is one of the love/hate aspects of superhero films, but like Tony Stark's tale in 2008, the story of Stephen Strange is interesting.
As in Iron Man, the "big bang moment" happens quickly and effectively. You feel disorientation, pain and shock Strange feels at losing what he sees as everything. Tony wanted a Cheesburger, Stephen want's experimental surgery.
Once we're into the magical world, we feel at home almost immediately thanks in part to the realism involved. This isn't incantations and "swish and flick" ala Harry Potter, but seemingly real people who can do incredible things naturally.
There are nods to prior movies and the universe Marvel has spent the past ten years building, which makes the film all the more fun. Strange removing a "perfect" radioactive bullet that might have come from The Winter Soldier is one such goodie. It explains how he was on HYDRA's radar for execution without making it a big thing.
The film makes magic work FOR the MCU and expands the universe into new territory rather than the concept feeling like something out of the Harry Potter films.
Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a strong performance and manages to not only make Strange a strong new hero, but one who can carry a franchise and potentially replace Tony Stark in future Avengers sequels.
Strange isn't a "perfect hero", he's arrogant, at times a borderline sociopath, and can be a complete tool, but like Stark, he's sure to grow into the role of a hero over time -- and we'll enjoy seeing it.
However, as good as the film is, there are some issues with it that may keep it from achieving the box office success of Iron Man and Guardians.
Why It Might Not Do So Well
Iron Man, Guardians and Ant-Man did well at the box office based on their family friendly traits. The heroes, despite being flawed were basically good people.
Doctor Strange DOESN'T have that family friendly, nice guy center to it. It's the first MCU film where everyone is basically an asshole, almost unashamedly.
Even the hero is conceited, arrogant, self-absorbed and not much changes by the end of the movie. In fact, it's probably worse.
The Ancient One is not as pure as she first appears and neither are Mordo, Wong or any of their comrades. It's a bold strategy to put so many "shades of grey" people together in one film. The only selfless person in the movie is Rachel McAdam's Christine and even she comes across as a bit of a manipulator, rebuffing Strange's advances and then immediately "moving back in" with him after his accident.
This can almost be given a pass however, as it is clearly intended as a more adult movie than has come before, but that may also be what damages it's box office potential when compared to the other movies.
Another concern is the level of violence in this film. Kids "probably" shouldn't see Doctor Strange. It is alarmingly violent compared to other MCU movies. People are brutally stabbed and dismembered. These murders aren't cartoonish or hidden like the 80,000 deaths in Guardians. They're savage and often graphic.
That is going to hurt both word of mouth and business at the box office. Once word gets out about the violence, then a lot of Marvel's core business, the kids who bugged their parents to see Ant-Man and Guardians, may not be allowed to see it.
Considering the he current controversy over The Walking Dead and Negan's rampage will only fuel those fires and it's not hard to imagine some parents groups pointing fingers at Marvel over the violence levels and themes in Doctor Strange as well.
A Roller Coaster Ride Of A Movie
The other thing that will hurt is that, as impressive as this film is visually, some may not like the ride.
Be prepared for stories of people fainting or vomiting, not due to violence or gore but due to the sheer mind-f***ery on the screen at times, for some people, Doctor Strange will be an ordeal.
That being said, Doctor Strange is like nothing you've seen before in terms of effects and how they shape action. I would be stunned if they don't win the Oscar for effects and possibly cinematography next year.
Doctor Strange is a movie you should see in IMAX or 3D, but those who are easily disoriented by action if film may not be up for repeat viewings, and that could hurt the movie in the long run.
Would A Lower Gross Mean Doctor Strange Failed?
It would certainly be a disappointment for Marvel/Disney, but not a major one. Doctor Strange was always going to be their most niche movie, introducing themes, concepts and characters unlike any other film in the franchise up to this point.
Early indications are that they may be looking at their best case scenario, that people take a chance, listen to good word of mouth or see it as an event movie.
Their worst is that this ends up performing like Batman v Superman in the first few weeks stateside; strong out of the gate but finishing below Marvel's expectations.
Would this damage them? Not really because the movie itself would rebound once it hits Blu Ray, and could easily become this generation's Blade Runner, a movie so different from anything else before it that it takes time to catch on.
From Marvel's perspective the value of Strange as a viable player for their upcoming movies can continue to be expanded. Had the movie been flawed like Batman v Superman or Fantastic Four then there'd be no way back. However, for the MCU as a whole, it does its job admirably.
Bottom line, Doctor Strange had the toughest sell and arguably has the most important job in setting up the future of the MCU. The future of the franchise depending on this movie being GOOD much more than raking in a ton of cash as an individual film. Thankfully, it appears to be on its way to achieving both.
Marvel may have a formula, but it's clearly working when a character like The Sorcerer Supreme can change the game all over again!