For their 14th
magic trick movie, Marvel Studios brings forth that lesser known psychadelic character from the 60’s – Doctor. Steven Strange.
Once a renowned neurosurgeon, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is in shambles, willing to try anything to get back the life he once had. Anything includes calling upon a mystic teacher (Tilda Swinton) who opens his eyes to the more magical aspects of the universe – both good and evil.
Despite Marvel’s commitment to avoiding origin stories, this is 100% an origin story, but can you blame them? He’s an obscure character, and his origins are central to his character – it’s not something so simple that an offhanded mention of, say, a radioactive spider can give enough explanation for the audience to run with. The crucial thing about learning Dr. Strange’s origins is that none of it feels needless. We’re not treading his past just for the sake of material for an opening chapter. It’s interesting, important, and lets us get to know this new addition to the MCU roster while on an entertaining adventure with critical stakes.
The world is once again in peril, yet it feels like a small thing compared to past exercises due to the fact that so few people know about it. The film is a slick feature, short and sweet, self contained, and visually astounding. Through Thor, the Marvel films have briefly touched on the more magical aspects of their universe, but this movie dives headfirst into the mystical – though through a neccessary lens of reality. Even if things seem to defy logic and science, you get the sense that in reality, it is logic and science that attempt (and fail) to defy the reality of the universe. Tapping into the otherworldly dimensions of sorcery allows Marvel to expand the possibilities in a big way.
Despite a (nearly flawless) American accent, Cumberbatch loses little of his gravitas, leveraging his imposing persona onto a character that is utterly despicable, yet highly enjoyable. I quite understand the thought that perhaps Strange is being groomed to be the franchise’s new Tony Stark once Iron Man and the current roster of Avengers is retired, presumably after 2019’s Infinity War concludes everything these films have been building towards currently.
Dr. Strange distances itself from the rest of the films not only by being less grounded, as it were, but thematically. It’s darker and more cerebral than most of what’s happened already, and feels like it could almost fit in with the more mature Netflix family of Marvel shows with little adjustment, despite the bright colors and necessary humor. Those jokes, in fact, feel rather forced at times, as if they were needed just to ensure the film didn’t alienate itself too much from audiences with certain expectations of the brand.
The one thing that this movie doesn’t do to distance itself from the rest of the MCU, sadly, is create a great villain. There’s nothing wrong with Mads Mikkelsen‘s performance, but he’s once again a one dimensional and predictable baddie who exists more or less as a mirror of our hero. There are, however, introductions and promises of far more interesting threats to come from this branch of the franchise, so there’s that at least.
It is worth mentioning that it should go without saying – the movies is, after all, about “Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme,” that if topics of mysticism, magic, Eastern religions, and the like is bothersome to you, this may be a film to skip. I was not bothered by them, especially given the context of the fantastic nature of this comic book universe, but some may feel otherwise. A key plot point (minor spoiler) involves a rather interesting portrayal of those being deceived with promises of eternal life, which turns out be one of those twisted half truths. Eternal torment (aka Hell) is a much more apt description, even if it is technically everlasting “life,” though there is not really any mention of an opposite existing. I will be curious to see if that is delved into at all in future stories.
The visuals have been repeatedly compared (often negatively) to Inception, based on the trailers. Well, I can tell you that Christopher Nolan’s film has nothing on this one. It’s as if the most impressive scenes in Inception were re-interpreted by Escher and then animated by someone looking through a kaleidoscope while ingesting mushrooms of the psychedelic variety. I am in awe of the minds that not only conceived some of thing things you will see on screen, but visualized and then executed them in a way that manages to make sense. I don’t use the term “mind boggling” lightly, but truly some of these scenes, particularly a hardcore chase scene that involves the world being turned into angry origami, are so insane yet so well choreographed and realized that it is boggling. If you choose to see the film in IMAX 3D, I don’t think you will be disappointed.
Despite all the newness, Dr. Strange still manages to fall into the old cliche of “forget all you think you know.” It even features that line explicitly. For a film that mostly avoids stereotypes and old tricks, there are still a number we’ve seen before, and for that it loses some points. It is, though, one of the most “complete” Marvel films, standing tall from start to finish, on its own, without relying on the rest of the connected universe to score any easy points, and it never feels unnecessary or only in service of things to come. Rather, it is a fantastic ride all on its own, that simply makes you all the more excited for what’s to come next, once it’s ended.
Brother Hamster says:
“Very different from the Marvel you’re used to, it’s a nice breath of fresh air.”
Mrs. Hamster says:
“Another win for the MCU. And trippy enough that the 3D was decent.”
My Rating: Four out of five hats
My Current Marvel Movie Ranking:
- Winter Soldier
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Civil War
- Dr. Strange
- Iron Man
- Thor 2
- Age of Ultron
- Iron Man 3
- Captain America
- Iron Man 2
Doctor Strange teleports into 3,882 theaters, including IMAX 3D, November 4th