One of these days, Marvel is going to have a bad film.
This is not that day.
Arrogant and self-centered neurosurgeon, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is at the top of his game when a terrible auto accident caused nerve damage to his hands, endangering his career. After exhausting every typical manner of treatment, Strange heads to the Far East in search of a more mystical solution. There he finds Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and The Ancient One (Tida Swinton) who have a solution for his problems if Strange is able to get past himself.
This is a Marvel origin story, so there are some familiar beats to it, however, this is also as different of a Marvel movie that exists within the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we have ever seen.
Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect as Doctor Strange. Marvel has excelled in casting since Marvel Studios has come into play (with a few minor exceptions) and this one more home run. Cumberbatch brings so much to a character that could have been really unlikable that you can’t help but fall for him. Cumberbatch does a good job with the Marvel humor as well. Most of the humor in Doctor Strange is really great. There are a couple of times that it misses the mark, but not as much as one would expect. I did not think Doctor Strange lent itself for the normal Marvel humor, but it fit pretty well. I’d say it was like 85% worked to 15% didn’t work.
Above everything else, the visual effects in Doctor Strange was unlike anything I have ever seen before. There were so many times that my mouth was just agape from astonishment at what I was seeing on the screen. I did see this in IMAX 3D and I think that is the way to see this movie. If Doctor Strange does not win the Oscar for Best Special Effects there is something dramatically wrong with the Academy. It was such a trippy, downright psychedelic film, and it was magical to watch.
There was a lot of criticism of Marvel for the “white-washing” of the Ancient One when they cast Tilda Swinton in the role, but I never once thought about that. Swinton took the typically stereotypical role of the Ancient One and made it into one of the standout performances of the film. She was outstanding in this role. Marvel does not seem to receive any credit for casting Ejiofor, a black man, as the normally white Baron Mordo or the non-stereotypical manner in which they used Wong (Benedict Wong) in this film. Heck, even the fact that Tilda Swinton is a female is a diversity change. Marvel has just cast great actors in their roles and the whole white-washing controversy is a manufactured story that does not stand up to the excellence of this film’s casting.
Rachel McAdams was also great in the supporting role of “love interest” Christine Palmer. She was not a large presence in the film, but I felt that every time she appeared on screen, she brought something positive to the scene.
And the Cloak of Levitation is easily the greatest cape in movie history. I’ll leave it at that.
There are a few complaints of the film. First, in the training section of the film, I was not sure how long we were there. The timing of that felt off. How long did Dr. Strange train with Mordo and the Ancient One? I understand you did not want to stretch this out too far, but the pacing just needed some work. Second, SPOILER– I am not sure how I feel about the CGI on Dormammu. It felt a little like Green Lantern, and Dormammu is too big of a villain to not have better visuals- especially in a movie where the visuals are so brilliant. I’ll need to see this film again to really decide whether or not this was a negative. End of SPOILER.
The third issue is that the film is fairly heavy in exposition. There is a lot of explaining about what is happening. I understand that there is probably no other way to go about this, but there was a ton of talking about mystical stuff. It did not take me out of the story or bore me, but there is no denying how much exposition was thrown at the audience.
Some people have been claiming that Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius was another wasted villain in a Marvel movie. While I do agree that there could have been more substance to the character, I disagree of him being a bad villain. He was very well done by Mikkelsen and he had a great look. He certainly provided a worthy opponent for Dr. Strange, and I believed that he could take on Mordo, Strange and the Ancient One. Mikkelsen is a great actor and hopefully, he is not done in this movie series.
Two post credit scenes are great, in particular the mid-credit scene where we get a feel of how Dr. Strange will be fitting into the overall MCU.
Director Scott Derrickson (Sinister) is a wonderful choice to helm the director’s chair for Doctor Strange. He brought a definite horror style to the film in many of the images used without falling into the typical pattern or losing the lighthearted joy of the genre. Doctor Strange could have been a dour and depressing tale, but in Derrickson’s trusty hands, we have another successful introduction of a lesser known Marvel hero, following in the footsteps of The Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant Man. The imagination that he embeds in this film shows what a magnificent storyteller this director is.
Doctor Strange brought something new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that was the world of magic. It opened up the concept of the Multiverse as well, providing an opportunity to really change and expand the storytelling that happens in the MCU. I get a feeling that Dr. Strange will be playing a huge role in the future of the MCU, in Phase 4 and beyond, and this film provided a brilliant opening salvo for that. Benedict Cumberbatch is great as the Sorcerer Supreme and the cast around him is spectacular. Even more than spectacular is the visual effects which are revolutionary in the film industry. Even some minor faults can not derail the Marvel machine in cranking out yet another winner.