“Doctor Strange” is the newest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the overall franchise of Marvel based action films for the past few years. When compared to the mass majority of previous MCU films, “Doctor Strange” is hard to compare. It’s wholly unique and completely new ground thematically for the superhero series, but still by-the-numbers in regards to the studio’s previous films. It’s an origin story, and a good one. While there is a surplus of visual flair and great performances, the narrative arc never truly breaks new ground. The ultimate question is whether or not it does proper service to the source material (the Stan Lee “Doctor Strange” character), and if it’s an enjoyable time at the cinema. Luckily, the film succeeds at both, so the minor issues I have with it are easily overlooked.
“Doctor Strange” centers around the titular character Stephen Strange, a cocky neurosurgeon played by Benedict Cumberbatch. After a career-ruining injury, Stephen Strange seeks out spiritual healing from monks in Nepal. What follows is an entertaining thrill ride of magic and sorcery; a brand new aspect that the Marvel films have yet to cover. While one could compare Thor’s powers to magic, “Doctor Strange’s” story makes no qualms about just how magical the powers are. There’s no tech running this; these are wizards at war. As an origin story, the film does a great job. It’s written and directed by Scott Derrickson, most well known for his work on the 2012 horror film “Sinister”. In a way, the same elements that work in horror films (slow burn storytelling, paired with intense action) seem to be present in “Doctor Strange”. Don’t mistake that as saying the movie has any sort of horror or fear factor, there truly isn’t. However, we do get to see as our hero surgeon transforms from irritating ass to heroic wizard. The best parts of the story are the overtly psychedelic visuals, and thanks in part to proper character development, the viewer feels just as caught off guard when the trip gets intense.
There’s a lot to be said about the performances in this film. While the script isn’t going to win any awards, there’s a lot of room for dynamic range from the cast. For instance, there’s quite a bit of humor from Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, a trait rarely used in his previous work. While the humor mostly lands, there’s a few scenes where it actually diminishes the intensity of the scene. Although these are disappointing, it’s still worthwhile to see Cumberbatch stretch his funny bone. Other key cast members include the phenomenal Tilda Swinton as the mysterious “Ancient One”, Mads Mikkelson as the villain “Kaecilius”, and many more. While Mads’ excellent villain doesn’t get much screen time (a common problem with Marvel films), he’s important to the story and luckily isn’t a waste. This is better than most of Marvel’s recent villains, namely “Zemo” in “Captain America: Civil War”. Additionally, the supporting cast is ripe with fantastic performances. Benedict Wong does a great job as the stone-faced “Wong”, usually sharing screen time with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s internally conflicted “Mordo”. I also have to give huge props to Rachel McAdams (and the script here, as well), as her character “Christine” manages to break the mold. Playing a colleague and former lover of Doctor Strange, she manages to exist beyond the cliché “love interest” of action films, and provides great character development where applicable. Overall, every cast member plays their characters perfectly, and all of the characters are used appropriately in the script.
I can’t criticize “Doctor Strange” without admitting its absolute handle on the chosen visual style. The film is about magic, true, but it’s also about inter-dimensional travel. The
source material has always been known for it’s crazy visuals and unique art, and while the film doesn’t replicate it perfectly, it finds a great style of it’s own. While the signature “kaleidescope acid trip” aethestic of the source material remains, it’s never overt or annoying. I would’ve preferred a more visually intense film, but for the target demographic, “Doctor Strange” does a great job keeping it even. Instead of making incredibly visual busy fight sequences, the film opts out of the psychedelic style during action. Instead, we get what visually I refer to as “Inception on acid times five”, which is essentially twisting and physic-defying city scapes with magic duels in the middle. It truly looks like how I’ve described it, with action scenes taking place on floating buildings that fold in on themselves, and warp and bend forcefully against the laws of physics. It’s an interesting collection of set piece scenes that needs to be seen to fully understand. Critically speaking though, the visuals perfectly immerse the viewer into the world of Doctor Strange, without feeling jarring or over used.
In general, “Doctor Strange” is a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the film generally functions as an origin story, there’s some background information in the film that ties into the overall “Avengers: Infinity Gauntlet” story arc that this film is building up to. It functions as both a great stand alone film, and a welcome addition to the series. While it’s never as funny as “Guardians of the Galaxy” or as intense as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, “Doctor Strange” distinguishes itself as a fantastic thrill ride. It’s definitely worth your time, and I recommend checking it out if you’re evenly remotely interested. If anything, it’s a unique look into the world of super heroes with an excellent cast.
Stephen Strange / Doctor Strange
Baron Karl Mordo
Dr. Nicodemus West
The Ancient One
Lucian / Strong Zealot
I award Doctor Strange an A-.
I award Doctor Strange an 8.5/10.
I award Doctor Strange 4.5/5 stars.