Doctor Strange Review – Stranger Than Fiction
*Some spoilers ahead for those who have yet to see Doctor Strange. You’ve been warned…
Doctor Strange Review
I went and saw Doctor Strange last night, in IMAX 3D (for the first time EVER). I went expecting a typical, fun, witty Marvel movie. And I came out of the theater with that expectation fulfilled. And that’s not a bad thing at all! What I got out of Doctor Strange was a fun, wholesome, enjoyable experience. Doctor Strange turned out to be one of the best superhero origin movies in the MCU.
“Despite all its drawbacks, it does well in what it sets out to do.”
Let’s talk story. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a typical flamboyant, arrogant, sarcastic and egoistic (Tony Stark anyone?) surgeon who takes pride in his life. He has everything, then he has nothing. He lost everything when he decided that texting while driving was a good idea, causing his car to crash, crushing both his hands in the accident. In his desperation to cure his now useless arms, he seeks Kamar-Taj, a holy place where he finds The Ancient One, played perfectly by Tilda Swinton. She reveals to him the mystical world of multiverse and magic and helps him train in the arts of magics and spells. This is where his adventure begins. Strange then goes on to find the strength in him, learn to control his power, get rid of the ego in him and ultimately save the world. Plot-wise, director Scott Derrickson is not giving us anything out of the ordinary. We have a gifted superhero-in-the-making turning from zero to hero, a bad guy seeking to destroy (or “save” in this case) the world and the said superhero-in-the-making to do so, the hero fights the bad guy, turns out an even bigger bad guy has been working from behind the scene, the world is under threat, and the hero saves the day by defeating the bad guys – a very typical, formulaic Marvel movie. But in the end, the formula still proves to be good as it always has, seeing as how enjoyable the movie really is.
Let’s talk magic. All things considered, Doctor Strange has all the elements of a good origin story. What sets it apart from the rest of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is how different the subject-matters are. While movies like Iron Man and Ant-Man deal with power-giving techs, and Captain America deals with super-soldiers with super-strength, Doctor Strange offers us something entirely different. The movie effectively introduces magic & mystic into the already expansive universe. And no, not the magic = science hogwash from Thor, but real magic, more spiritual in nature. And this is where the movie truly shines. The early scenes straight away caught my attention and awe. The movie takes no chance and straight away showers audiences with beautiful presentation of magic. The first showdown between The Ancient One and Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) is not only unique and fierce, but beautiful to look at. Everything gets so Inception-y right from the get go. It is a visual spectacle. The movie fidelity to the comics is truly remarkable. It’s just as trippy, weird and mind-bending as those comic panels. I especially liked the scenes where The Ancient One shows Strange the “truth” about the world. It’s plain weird. It’s really hard to translate those scenes into words so I’m not even gonna try. The fight scenes are different from other MCU movies. They still punch and kick each other but they add some magics to them, in some very interesting ways, neat huh? You’ll get a lot of the camera-turning, up-is-now-down scenes and these scenes make the movie feels different from other movies in the MCU. And all those reality-bending, time-manipulating stuff are really translated well on-screen. You can say Ditko himself directed those scenes and people would believe you! So if anyone is still skeptical about whether they can bring magic to the big screen: you have your answer. Doctor Strange makes Gandalf looks like a conjurer of cheap tricks (LOTR fans should get it)!
Now let’s talk characters and casts. First off we have the good Doctor himself. He’s played by the brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch. No one could’ve played him better. Cumberbatch brings the charisma, charm, witty and genius out of Stephen Strange. And my god do those goatee look good on him! Seeing Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange brought back the memories of watching Robert Downey Jr plays Tony Stark for the first time. Now I just can’t wait to see Strange and Stark share a scene together. Just imagine the sheer amount of ego we’re gonna see! Then we have Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer. She is Strange’s special friend/lover/ex-lover. Christine plays her role well (she doesn’t have much to do in the movie) where she is needed. And I think the movie does well with her character. She is an important person in Doctor Strange’s life but she doesn’t have to be an important character to the plot. The movie understands that and doesn’t try to make her do more than she should (looking at you Jane Foster). We also have Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). While he is one of Doctor Strange’s nemesis in the comic books, but he is an ally in the movie. He serves as a mentor/friend character. He trains with Strange and he guides Strange, ideologically & physically. I’m bummed he is not given enough attention in the movie, but who can complain, the movie is called Doctor Strange, not Baron Mordo. But for what its worth, the character is given development in the movie. And fans of him should be excited with what they have in store for this character in the future. If the post-credit stinger is of any indication, it is clear that Mordo is going to be a villain sometime in the future. And he will start by hunting Strange down.
When Marvel cast Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, many heads were turned. But Swinton definitely proves them wrong. Her performance as The Sorcerer Supreme is truly remarkable. She emits a strong, but gentle presence. She serves well as a mentor figure to Doctor Strange. She is powerful as demonstrated in her several clashes with Kaecilius. It is a shame we will not be seeing her in any sequel or any other movie in the MCU. Now if they had cast an Asian male for the character, they couldn’t have had the scene where The Ancient One and Strange hold hands now can they? So what’s there to complain? We also have Wong played by Benedict Wong. He is my personal favourite. This character is a total opposite of his comics counterpart. Wong is more of an ally/mentor to Strange as opposed to his servant as in the comics. He is
the bookkeeper in Kamar-Taj and he guards his books well. But in all his seriousness, he provides comic relief, which I am sure most Marvel fans would approve of. And lastly we have the villain, Kaecilius played by Hannibal himself, Mads Mikkelsen. As usual, Marvel has always had problem with their villains. The problem persists in this movie. Kaecilius is an archetype villain, bland, with little-to-no motivation given. I half-expected this villain to be good like Zemo in Captain America: Civil War, but I ended up disappointed. He is given very little backstory, no reason as to why he wants to destroy (or save according to him) the world. A perfect “Marvel Villain”. If only they had gone a bit far and give us some exposition on his motivation, he might just end up a bit better. And as usual with these villains, he gets killed off at the end of the movie. Performance wise, Mikkelsen is as brilliant as he always is, albeit with very little to show.
Let’s talk verdict then. For me, Doctor Strange is arguably one of the best Marvel origin movies. It is definitely in my personal top 3. The plot is predictable, but by no means weak. It has its ups and downs, but mostly ups. It introduces Doctor Strange and all the strange things he is bringing to the table. And they had to make some
compromises on the villains. Kaecilius is essentially the second coming of Malekith, with nothing great to offer. Dormammu is just a glorified cameo although the first half of the movie makes it seems like he will be the main bad guy. But hey, at least we get to see his oddly-amusing showdown with Strange. And we all know he is coming back one day! Despite all its drawbacks, it does well in what it sets out to do. We know who Doctor Strange is now (NOT the Sorcerer Supreme, yet), we know Dormammu is around in the MCU, we know Mordo is gonna return a changed man, we know magic is real and not explainable science and we know the MCU just adds to it’s already massive assemble a new superhero in the form of a sorcerer. And the movie even gives us a pinch of romance, wit and humour, Marvel style. On top of all that, the great casts breathe life into each character and deliver powerful performance. I give this movie a solid 4 out of 5.
Let’s talk moving forward. Now with the origin story out-of-the-way, the only way for Doctor Strange is forward. What does that mean? It means having to protect the world alongside all the other superheroes in the universe. And the movie itself straight away delves into that in the mid-credits scene. We have Thor meeting Doctor Strange in Sanctum Sanctorum, with a huge glass of beer in his hand. Apparently Thor and Loki are looking for Odin on Earth, and they need Doctor Strange’s help with it. It’s obvious that this indicates that Doctor Strange could very well be in Thor: Ragnarok. If that is the case, fans don’t have to wait until Avengers: Infinity War to see Doctor Strange back in action!
p/s – don’t bother watching it in IMAX. Seeing it in normal theater is good enough.