Okay guys, it’s time for another movie review. I honestly intended to see some other of the super hero movie offerings of this past year, but frankly the trailers looked kinda crummy and my bank account couldn’t be made to care about them. However, the trailers for Doctor Strange looked good right up to the day of release, and I had to see it.
This is certainly a different variety of movie than previous Marvel Studios entries. The focus on the mystical elements adds something that goes beyond the science fiction logic used for films like Guardians of the Galaxy and the purposeful casting aside of a magical explanation in the Thor films.
That being said, the qualities common in a Marvel movie are still present. The narrative focuses on the power of choice triumphing over the tides of destiny. There are one-liners galore. Stephen Strange is a sarcastic hero with an amplified sense of self-worth in the vain of Tony Stark. There are bombastic fight scenes and the fate of the world is on the line.
The plot sets up Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, a gifted surgeon who is on the forefront of many cutting edge studies in medical sciences. He is a uniquely talented individual and he knows it. This is all taken away from him when a car crash results in the shattering of every bone in his hands. He sinks every penny he has into finding some way of healing his broken hands and comes up with no solution.
A chance lead takes him to the Far East, where he finds a sort of training academy for sorcerers led by the mysterious Ancient One, portrayed by Tilda Swinton. She and other teachers Karl Mordo, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Wong, played by Benedict Wong, manage to shatter Strange’s skepticism, and he chooses to learn the mystic arts in the hope of healing his hands.
This is complicated when Kaecilius, brought to life by Mads Mikkelson, begins an assault on the Ancient One and her apprentices to destroy them and bring about the arrival of the extradimensional Dormammu.
The acting in this movie is phenomenal and among the best I’ve seen in a Marvel film. No one is asleep on the job or phoning it in. Benedict Cumberbatch is in top form and manages to hold a really convincing American accent throughout the film. His character is the kind of monumental dick in the first act of the film that makes Tony Stark from the first act of Iron Man seem like a saint. It actually impressed me that Marvel had their lead character take the stage as such a self-centered and morally ambiguous character. It was a nice touch and kept the beginning from feeling like many other super hero origin stories.
Tilda Swinton is clearly having fun as the enigmatic Ancient One, and I really enjoyed her portrayal of the character. The movie makes a clever joke at the expense of how one would expect a character like the Ancient One to look before revealing Swinton as the true Sorcerer Supreme. It may anger the people who were hoping for a more “traditional” Ancient One, but I enjoyed it and loved Swinton as the immortal tutor.
Chiwetel Ejiofor brings a dedication to the character of Karl Mordo that almost allows him to steal every scene he’s in. Mikkelson’s performance is the most memorable part of Kaecelius and fleshes out the character more than the script does. Despite a couple of memorable one-liners and a unique visual design, this could have easily been a character as forgettable as Jeff Bridge’s Iron Monger and Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith. However, Mads brings an emotional depth that makes him into a great villain in the halls of Marvel’s film pantheon.
Benedict Wong is severely underused in this film, but he is quite enjoyable in the scenes he’s in. His po-faced seriousness is actually a bit of a joke that pays off greatly by the end of the film. Rachel McAdams isn’t given that much to do and only seems to show up to remind us she exists. She has some good moments, but she is not as interesting as Pepper Potts, Jane Foster, or Hope Van Dyne have been in films past.
The Cloak of Levitation actually gets to be a bit of a character on its own, if a bit of a goofy one. It kind of behaves like one of those anarchic pet archetypes. The best comparable thing I can think of is the Minions, but please understand that it is not nearly as annoying as those things. Plus, the Minions never choked someone out. The Cloak of Levitation, however, does.
The thing that stands out the most in this film, however, is the visual design of the magic powers. It. Is. Awesome. The ethereal glow and kinetic feel of the conjurations make them seem both impactful and something alive. The instantaneous nature of the abilities never allows the question of “what if somebody had a gun?” to show its ugly head.
There is a pocket realm that the sorcerers can summon called the Mirror Dimension which Kaecelius and the Ancient One can manipulate. When they do, it creates a mind-boggling and gorgeous display that very much draws on the inspiration of M. C. Escher and a little Salvador Dali. It is incredible to watch and left my mouth agape.
The one thing that held the film back was the Marvel trademark necessity to halt the pacing for a one-liner and a bit of goofiness, particularly in the aforementioned Cloak of Levitation. It keeps the tone light and provides necessary levity in moments, but this film has just a few too many. The Captain America line of films managed to have the perfect amount, but this movie gets a bit Whedon-esque at times with how much sarcasm is poured into some moments. Make no mistake, I absolutely adore Whedon’s Avengers films, but their biggest flaw is the pace-breaking and emotional-whiplashing one-liners.
The climactic fight scene has a bit of an unexpected twist in that it’s not that much of a fight so much as Doctor Strange outwitting the bad guys. It’s clever and shows an interesting growth in the character from the beginning of the film. It may be a slight disappointment to some people who were really hoping for a big magical smack down, but it is entertaining enough so that it probably won’t be too big a bugbear for anyone.
Of course, the great Mr. Stan Lee makes a brief and cleverly intertwined appearence within the film. There are two stingers at the end, so don’t leave after the first one concludes. The first is more relevant to the MCU at large, and the second foreshadows future Doctor Strange stories.
This film succeeds in being an interesting and fresh entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s loads of fun, visually astonishing, and has top-rate acting. Welcome to the big screen, Doctor Strange. I hope to see you around here for quite some time to come.
Final Score: 8.5/10