Major Doctor Strange spoilers ahead. I strongly recommend turning away until you've seen the movie.
After months of escalating hype, #DoctorStrange finally hit theaters in Europe this week. A first viewing of the movie which in many ways begins a new era for #Marvel and the #MCU answered a lot of questions, some small — is it worth seeing in IMAX (yes), is it as bold/adventurous as Guardians of the Galaxy (nope) — some big. Does everyone make it out of this movie alive, for example?
The MCU has sometimes been afraid to kill characters other than disposable villains (and #Kaecilius, ostensibly the villain of this movie, is entirely disposable), but in Doctor Strange it finds the balls to kill off a major player who sits on the side of good rather than evil. I'm talking, of course, about...
...the #AncientOne, played beautifully by Tilda Swinton. The earlier controversy around the casting of a white woman as a traditionally Asian male character dissipates the moment you see Swinton in the Ancient One's natural habitat of Kamar-taj. This first half of the film is the strongest by far, and it's a joyous trip to see Cumberbatch's Strange grow in confidence under the tutelage of the Ancient One and Baron Mordo as he learns the mystic arts.
When Strange trips through the portal into the New York sanctum, though, everything starts to go wrong — as an attack by Kaecilius renders the sanctum vulnerable, and its Master dead, the film itself grows predictable and loses the energy of those earlier training scenes in Kathmandu. A visually stunning battle between the Ancient One and her corrupted former pupil goes horribly south when Kaecilius opens the portal between the Mirror Dimension and our own, the Ancient One falling hundreds of feet onto the streets of New York City.
Check out our MP exclusive behind-the-scenes video.
It's at this point, as the Sorcerer Supreme astrally projects herself out of her body to converse with Strange, that the movie's best scene arrives. Their spirits floating on the hospital balcony overlooking a Big Apple snowstorm, surgeons fighting in vain to resuscitate her body in the operating room, the Ancient One tells Strange that in all her readiness for death, "Here I am, stretching out this moment, just so I can watch the snow fall." And then she's gone.
Not only is this scene beautifully played and by far the most emotional moment of the movie, it also signifies the MCU's new willingness to raise the stakes by killing off good guys (even if the film does signpost her death massively, robbing it of some of its shock factor). The ability to slide in and out of alternative dimensions could, in theory, lead to the Ancient One returning somewhere down the line, but better to let the dead stay dead (unlike, say, Loki, or Groot, whose emotional deaths were somewhat undone by an almost immediate resurrection).
It also forces the Doctor, now named Master of the New York sanctum, to complete his trainings without his teacher, which renders him potentially less of a threat to Thanos when Avengers: Infinity War comes around — so, while not as bold a movie as Kevin Feige might claim, Doctor Strange still proves an origin story worth telling in how it subtly reshapes the nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Doctor Strange hits theaters November 4 in the US.