I’m loving Marvel’s recent willingness to risk high budget movies on some of their obscure characters. Back in 2014 I’m sure nobody thought a Guardians of the Galaxy film would have worked because even among comic fans they weren’t very well known but it did work, gloriously.
Dr. Strange is another gamble for Marvel, if you’ve read any big event comics you’ll have probably came across the Sorcerer Supreme. He’s the guy everyone calls when they have a magical problem or when technology has failed them. He’s a good utility player to have in this wider Marvel Cinematic Universe.
This review will contain plot spoilers, including the after credits scene
We start out getting introduced to Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), he’s a rock star surgeon who seems to be more concerned with recognition for his skill rather than saving people. We see his lavish apartment, car, clothes and also the dismissive way he treats his fellow doctors. It’s a pretty similar format to the first Iron Man movie, We hate him but also kind of like him because he’s charming and good at his job. In keeping with that format Strange’s hubris is soon met with a horrible car accident in which he suffers severe nerve damage to his hands. Naturally this means he’ll never be able to work as a surgeon again and sends him into a dark spiral of blame and self loathing. I felt like during this part they maybe went a little too dark though. He routinely abuses his friendship with fellow doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) and she kind of just takes it. Even going so far as to forgive him later in the movie without much push back. It’s annoying that Marvel continues to downplay the women in their stories. It just further alienates female fans and it made it hard for me to root for the character as a hero later on.
Idle Hands are Mephisto’s Play Things
After all of his top surgeon friends abandon him because his condition is too risky to try and fix Strange starts to look for more unorthodox methods of healing. This leads him to Kuala Lumpur looking for a place called kamar-Taj. There he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and as many movie characters like him before doesn’t believe in magic or anything beyond the physical realm. The Ancient One decided to open Strange’s mind and sends his soul hurtling off the earth and out of our plane of existence. I can’t talk about this movie without mentioning that the special effects are incredible. They capture the psychedelic visuals of the 60’s comics perfectly. There are some incredibly complex actions scenes later on that are a cross between an M.C. Escher painting and that folding city scene from Inception.
From this point in the film the plot moves pretty quickly. We don’t actually see too much of Strange learning magic so it comes as quite a shock when he’s thrust into some fights and seems to hold his own. They don’t really make it clear how much time passes while he’s training. They try and explain his leap in skill away with Strange’s photographic memory, which I guess makes sense since most of the magic seems to involve memorising hand movements and incantations but it’s not very satisfying for the viewer.
Before his training is totally complete our bad guy and former student of The Ancient One Kaecillius (Mads Mikkelsen) shows up ready to destroy earth’s magical barriers and let in the dark dimension. Mads does a pretty good job with what he’s given but he’s written as a totally forgettable villain. We don’t really get to see him do anything and there is barely any depth to his character. Add in that his character’s name is hard to pronounce and nobody will ever remember this guy.
Doctor Strange has all the potential to be a great movie but the rushed pacing really lets it down. They do set up some really cool stuff for the future including name dropping some crazy characters (like Dormammu and the Living Tribunal) and setting up that Strange will be joining Thor in his next outing with the mid credits scene. I think Doctor Strange would have worked better as a TV show, we would have had more time to get to know the magical side of the Marvel universe and we could have actually got to know the characters and learned how his powers worked. It’s also a pretty formulaic film they don’t really throw any unexpected plot points your way and you can easily predict how most scenes will play out. So not a perfect first outing for the good doctor but I’m excited for what he’ll bring to marvel movies in the future.