We’re taking a somewhat different approach on this review with ToG reviewers Trey and myself both taking a stab at Marvel’s most recent release, Dr. Strange! Enjoy!
Stacy: Dr. Strange is the 14th movie in the MCU continuity, and what a divergence from the typical experience we’ve come to expect from Marvel. Dr. Strange has a top notch cast, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character. It’s safe to say Marvel has the formula down at this point. This time we are getting a pretty standard origin story, but we haven’t seen an origin quite like this. Dr. Strange is easily Marvel’s most unique and ambitious cinematic experience to date. I cannot stress this enough, there is nothing quite like Dr. Strange.
As fans I feel we’ve become a bit complacent and spoiled. A movie being “good” just isn’t enough anymore, and we expect each movie to be bigger than the one before. Dr. Strange turns this on it’s head (literally, and figuratively) by breaking the rules of the MCU. For the first time we get to see the astral realm, where spirits dwell and an entirely different war is being fought. The movie takes us across infinite universes, giving us quite the introduction into the magic of the MCU. Marvel has done a tremendous job building on each cinematic experience, weaving themes throughout the movies culminating in this trippy cinematic experience. Cumberbatch is cast perfectly as the Sorcerer Supreme, even down to the goatee and salt and pepper locks.
Marvel movies have, at some points, been justifiably criticized for weak villain in their movies. In this instance I’d have to disagree, although I can see where fans might see Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) that way. Kaecilius is as fully formed as he needs to be, but he is definitely no standout villain. That said, his motivation is explained seamlessly through a combination of exposition and action, helping you find the driving force behind his behavior. Tilda Swinton (Ancient One) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo) balance out the fantastical nature of their roles with grounded performances. Even though Swinton’s character was different than the established character in the comics, she does a masterful job portraying a serene but ominously powerful character. Wong, Strange’s “sidekick” from the comics, has an amusing dynamic with Cumberbatch, with a number of humorous exchanges between the two.
I think it’s safe to say that what makes this movie stand out in the Marvel line-up are the cast and visuals. As usual, there are plenty of Easter eggs and nods to previous Marvel entries, including 2 end credit scenes sure to spark conversation. I won’t spoil anything here, but if you’re a fan of the Marvel cinematic universe, I definitely recommend checking this one out in the theater. The spectacle and visual effects are worth the price of admission.
Trey: Dr. Stephen Strange is on top of the world; leading neurosurgeon, developing techniques that will not only save millions, but will cement his legacy in history. That is until a car crash crushes his hands, damaging the nerves, preventing him from ever performing surgery again. Distancing himself from friends, such as ex-girlfriend Dr. Christine Palmer, he searches for any experimental procedure that could heal his hands, but science utterly fails him.
Learning about a monastery, Kamar-Taj, that miraculously healed a paralyzed man, Strange heads to Kathandu where he meets Mordo, a member of a group that claims to be sorcerer monks, led by a mysterious and upbeat woman called The Ancient One. Strange is a man of science, so it takes convincing for him to believe in the mystic arts they teach, but once he experiences the other dimensions first hand, he submits to her teachings.
While training to harness the magical and spiritual powers of the multiverse, he learns of a rogue group of sorcerers led by the zealot Kaecilius who wants to make the world one with the Dark Dimension, throne of the evil entity known as Dormammu. Thrown headfirst into a battle to protect the world from evil, Strange discovers the limitless possibilities of magic, while balancing his own ego.
Marvel’s Doctor Strange opens up a new realm in the already massive Cinematic Universe. The Avengers protect the world from the greater physical threats, the Guardians of the Galaxy defend the cosmic community, and the newly forming Defenders fight against smaller threats that are just as dangerous. Doctor Strange and his fellow sorcerers repel spiritual beings from other worldly dimensions and universes. But this is only an introduction to the realm of magic to the MCU, and while it opens the possibility of venturing into alternate universes where the events that created the Avengers could unfold quite differently, it’s unlikely we will see any of this for a while, but the potential is there.
The film does a great job of introducing this realm and balancing its magic between science and the completely unexplainable. Starting as a man of science and becoming a man of faith, we see Strange struggle with this line, while also struggling with himself. Stephen Strange is the exact type of character that Marvel, comics and film, is not only famous for, but also excels at creating; a flawed character. From the beginning, Strange isn’t a nice guy. He’s charming, intelligent, and attractive, but he’s also an arrogant asshole who practices medicine not just to help people, which he does seem to want to do, but also in large part to advance his own fame. As his character progresses, he is still fairly arrogant, but he arcs from anti-hero to actual hero, choosing to defend the greater good rather than feed his own vanity.
Where Doctor Strange falls short is, as usual, with its main villain. There is little character to Kaecilius aside from a man who succumbed to his desire for power. Weak antagonists have been a theme with the MCU, aside from a few exceptions, but the film seems to use this to a Strange advantage. It almost seems like Kaecilius was intentionally left flat because there was so much more interesting characters and elements to discuss. For example, the introduction of Dormammu in only one scene mirrors the arrogance Strange held at the beginning, and it is what leads Dormammu to his defeat. Or the journey that Mordo goes through from the time you meet him to the end. These characters are introduced and will be further explored as the MCU continues, while Keacilius was intentionally a footnote in the greater story.
Following a steady pacing, naturally funny and not taking itself too seriously, with interesting action sequences that focused more on a battle of perception and wits than throwing punches, Doctor Strange is a strong addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that will add to its other titles as he helps the Avengers, and maybe even the Defenders, to protect his world from the darker dimensions.