Welcome back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A land of powers, science, amazing heroes and not-so-amazing villains (unless you’re Loki). However, there’s a new element brought to the table, introduced in the newest entry in the series: Marvel’s Doctor Strange.
Doctor Strange is about Stephen Strange, an extremely talented but equally arrogant surgeon who can put any Grey’s Anatomy cast member to shame with his near magical skill with a scalpel. After being a victim of a severe car crash due to use of his cell phone and speeding, he loses the ability to use his talent, and in search of a cure, finds a new gift as he discovers the world of magic, and that there are more dimensions than just the physical one that we normal people live in. One of these alternate dimensions and universes is a realm founded in spirituality, and is defended through similar means.
To quench the thirst of the hungry MCU fans beforehand, this movie has very little to due with the Avengers. Other then the obligatory scenes that take place if you stick around after the credits and some establishing shots of the Avengers Tower in New York City, there’s no real way to tell that this movie is connected to the other films we’ve seen. That is, if the Marvel style was put all over the place. Comedy, pop songs, moments of high intensity that take a split-second break to reveal Stan Lee in the background, these are moments that are all strewn about the magical tale. Does it work? The best answer I can give is “sometimes”. Doctor Strange does a lot right as a stand alone film. For example, it has a great cast, wonderful effects, and a plot that makes sense and keeps viewers on edge enough to keep people engaged. However, as a Marvel film, it tends to land on the lower side of the spectrum. Traits that Marvel films have, especially recent ones, is their humor. Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy are all extremely funny and memorable. Doctor Strange tries it’s best, but it doesn’t work usually. This likely isn’t because Marvel is losing form and slowing down, this is because director Scott Derrickson had one of the biggest tasks in all of the Marvel movies: introduce one of the biggest characters as well as the concept of magic and how it works in the MCU. When your focus is doing that in a way that isn’t pretty much a visual textbook called “Magic: By Pearson Education”, being funny starts to become background. Are there funny moments? Yes. Are there funny scenes? Not really.
When I look at this movie, it feels like for every outstanding quality, there’s something that could potentially ruin it. Here’s an example: In the second act of the film, Strange learns about relics and what they are, what they mean, and how to obtain them. Essentially, the relics sense when a sorcerer is worthy of said relic and then calls to the sorcerer. But then he finds two relics and immediately uses them without establishing that it chose him, and then just wears them around the rest of the film using it at his leisure. This rushed pacing translates into the action, as the film goes from learning about the multiverse and magic to having mastered it and fighting against extremely powerful villains with it. How does this take place? Without spoiling too much, Strange messes around with an important relic, and as he puts it back, the villain walks in to try and steal it with his henchmen. After that, fighting ensues. This is especially a shame because the parts that are dialogue are great and the action equally so, but getting from one great aspect to the next is where Doctor Strange falls on its face.
That isn’t to say it’s all bad, though. This is a brilliantly crafted Marvel picture. The cast is amazing, giving a lot of care into seeing these characters fully realized off the comic book pages and onto the big screen. As far as supporting cast goes, Rachel McAdams plays a really compelling friend/love interest and bounces off of Strange’s gargantuan ego and Tilda Swinton, whose role was specifically made for her, brings her amazing talent from Game of Thrones into this film. However, the best character in the film is thankfully the titular star, Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Stephen Strange. Lately, Marvel has been casting amazing character after amazing character, with recent examples being Paul Rudd as Ant-Man and Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, and added to that list is Cumberbatch as Strange. This really does fit perfectly for the British actor, as Cumberbatch is known to play very arrogant characters who tend to put themselves on a pedestal a lot, although usually for good reason. If you’ve seen Star Trek: Into Darkness or an episode of Sherlock, then you know what I’m talking about. He really is an amazing actor who makes a great character in Marvel comics really come to life. Much similar to how Chawick Boseman introduced a stoic character when he introduced Black Panther in the MCU in Captain America: Civil War in May of earlier this year, Benedict Cumberbatch introduces a very selfish, yet heroic character with Doctor Strange.
Another compliment to give the film is it’s effects. Doctor Strange has been hailed by critics because of the effects, with AA. Dowd of avclub.com writing “‘Cool enough’ doesn’t do justice to this blockbuster’s city- and reality-bending set pieces. ‘Awe-inspiring’ is closer.”. These critiques aren’t unjustified, as the effects are spell-binding and work really well. There are parts where cities fold in on themselves, worlds shatter and crack like glass, or Strange soars through worlds and galaxies and it’s a wonder to watch. I would legitimately want to watch more of these effects take place and what they can do with the technology. Marvel once again has done a stellar job of enthralling me in the world with these effects, being convincing enough to believe that in this universe, this could happen. Something quick to bring up, don’t see this in 3D. I made the mistake of doing it believing it would enhance the visual euphoria and it actually made things not nearly as believable. A greater discussion on 3D is soon to come, but rest assured that you should see this picture in 2D.
Overall, Doctor Strange might not be the best Marvel film in the now 14 film lineup, far from it. However, it is a groundbreaking experience in the MCU, introducing abilities and effects that are quite literally “out of this world”. If you have a couple of friends who love Marvel movies, I’d go see this with them right away. If not, watch it at your leisure, but know that it’s worth a viewing or two.