Doctor Stephen Strange hits the silver screen! Is the latest Marvel Studios film worth your hard earned cash? Find out now!
Doctor Strange (2016)
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams
Directed by: Scott Derickson
To say that Doctor Strange is a gamble for Marvel Studios is an understatement. Yes, this is the same studio that took The Guardians of the Galaxy from a bunch of “nerd only” characters into full-fledged mainstream hits, but amidst third installments in the Captain America and Thor franchises (as well as facing competition from WB’s DC films), starting up another character would seem like a risky move. But amazingly, Doctor Strange is another solid film from Marvel Studios that offers a ton of memorable moments, even if the story feels like one you’ve seen before.
Make no mistake; Doctor Strange is an origin film. The film acts like a mixture of Batman Begins and Iron Man, but with a spiritual bent. After losing the use of his hands in a horrific car accident, arrogant neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), turns to anything and everything to regain the use of his hands and return to this life of wealth and power. This search eventually leads him to Nepal, where he comes across a group of mystics who protect the Earth from inter-dimensional threats. Led by The Ancient One (played by the awesome Tilda Swinton), these mystics take Strange into their ranks, despite the fact that he’s too headstrong to buy into their teachings.
The Ancient One and the other mystics brings me to one of Doctor Strange’s biggest strengths: the cast, which is proof of how influential Marvel Studios has become since 2008. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange is, to put it bluntly, an asshole. He’s arrogant, self-centered, and only interested in helping people that will further his career. Cumberbatch plays this version of Strange extremely well, almost to the point where you want him to get his comeuppance. But when it comes to his recovery pre-trip to the East, Cumberbatch is able to convey Strange’s pain and frustration wonderfully, making you both feel sorry for him, but also feel like he’s gotten exactly what he’s deserved. However, once Strange starts to make his way through the Ancient One’s teachings, Cumberbatch really hits his stride, even though there is a little bit of suspension of disbelief when it comes to Stephen Strange questioning certain aspects of his teachings. Once you’ve figured out how to leave your body in your “astral form”, it’s kind of hard to believe someone would still be questioning other abilities.
As good as Cumberbatch is, the show is nearly stolen by TIlda Swintin’s Ancient One. After all the controversy surrounding her character, Swinton delivers a performance so note perfect that you forget all of the blog posts about her. Swinton commands the screen whenever she is on it, and she’s able to sell even the most ridiculous line of mystical mumbo-jumbo. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo is also an extremely compelling character, and the way his path intersects with Strange’s is fascinating, and adds fuel to a hopeful sequel down the line. Benedict Wong plays Wong, who’s transformed from Strange’s manservant in the comics to fellow Sorcerer who guards over the Ancient One’s library.
But, there are always a few things that get shorthanded in a Marvel film, and here it’s the usual suspects. First up, Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer is pretty underutilized in this movie. While it’s refreshing to see that she’s relegated to more than just being “Doctor Strange’s girlfriend”, the movie seems to forget that she’s a part of the plot until they absolutely need her. That being said, her chemistry with Cumberbatch is really good, and many of her scenes bring a lot of levity to the story (her reaction to the cloak of levitation floating on its own is pretty great).
If you guessed that the next thing to get shorthanded was the villain, then you are today’s No-Prize winner! Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius is really nothing more than a crazed leader in the cult of Dormammu. Now, Mikkelsen is an actor that I will watch anything he’s in, and he does a good job with what he’s given, but at the same time, it’s a bit of a shame that an actor of his caliber is essentially wasted on what is a henchman role. A lot of this is due to the fact that this movie is showing us Stephen Strange’s ascension to being the Sorcerer Supreme, but a few extra scenes with Kaecilius couldn’t have hurt the movie. Mikkelsen does bring some fun moments to the movie (his confusion when Strange tells him to call him “Doctor” is pretty funny), but it’s a bummer that he’s in this when he would be the perfect Doctor Doom if Marvel ever got the Fantastic Four rights back.
Doctor Strange also suffers a bit in the story department. Being a superhero origin movie, you can definitely pick out what’s going to happen, and a lot of dramatic moments are ruined simply because you know that Stephen Strange isn’t in any real danger because he hasn’t become the “Sorcerer Supreme” yet. You may find yourself a little bored waiting until Strange starts his training in Nepal, but once he does, hold onto your effing hat, cause that’s when Doctor Strange starts getting really trippy.
Director Scott Derickson (who handled the great horror movies The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister) holds absolutely nothing back in the visuals department. There are astral projection fights, cities collapsing in on another, hallways being turned upside down like in Inception, and even a sweet homage to the amazing Steve Ditko Doctor Strange art of the 1960’s. At times I thought I was going to throw up from the insane visuals that I was seeing, and for the first time ever I regret not seeing a movie in 3-D. From this standpoint, Derickson was the perfect choice for the character. It’s well known that he’s a huge fan of the character, and that translates wonderfully to the screen. Even something as difficult like the “Dark Dimension” looks like the awesome Steve Ditko black light painting is should. It may not offer a lot in the story department, but Doctor Strange sets a new bar for effects in a superhero movie.
As always, you should absolutely stay through the credits for this one. There’s a great midcredits sequence that has me absolutely jazzed up for future Strange MCU appearances. In regards to other MCU releases, Doctor Strange falls in the “great” area of the Marvel Studios films, but its also laid important groundwork for the future of Marvel’s cinematic universe that has a ton of potential. Not only that, but the promise of more Benedict Cumberbatch, even with an American accent, is never a bad thing. I always say that Marvel Studios keeps finding ways to surprise me, and with Doctor Strange they did that and then some. Doctor Strange may not be perfect, but it’s definitely a damn good time.