Thank you. Marvel did it again, and they continue to do it right. As Doctor Strange is my favourite comic book character (I love magic, sorcery and a good redemption storyline) I was very nervous and unsure what we were going to get when Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) joined the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). Strange is not the most popular or well known character in comicdom, what are his powers? What does he do? Where did he come from? All questions that need to be answered in an origin tale, and that is what this movie was. This was Doctor Strange at the end of his surgical life and the beginning of his life with the mystic arts, and long before he would become the Sorcerer Supreme.
The brilliant but arrogant surgeon loses the use of his hands in a car accident as he’s discussing new cases to undertake, one of which was for a paralyzed military colonel who was injured while wearing an exo-suit of armour. To me this was an obvious reference to James Rhodes/War Machine’s injuries in Captain America Civil War and it has been hinted that the “woman with schizophrenia with an an electronic implant in her brain struck by lightning” is somehow related to the upcoming Captain Marvel movie starring Brie Larson. At the end of the film’s credits we are reminded to not drive distractedly, and are also treated to two post credit bonus scenes. Well, one mid credits which was more humourous and one post that was of a more serious nature. Seeking help to repair the nerve damage to his hands, he spends his last dollar to travel to Kathmandu, Nepal seeking out Kamar-Taj and the fabled “Ancient One” (Tilda Swinton) who leads him into the mystical world. Strange is tutored by Kamar-Taj masters Morodo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong) and together they band together to protect the world from the sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his zealots who had stolen a forbidden ritual from the Kamar-Taj library and now seek to use it to gain the power and immortality promised by the lord of the Dark Dimension, the Dread Dormammu.
The film as I said was pretty much everything I wanted it to be. It was true to the character, and showed the change Stephen Strange made in his life. Strange adjusts to the world, and finally accepts that everything isn’t about him. That’s not something that a Tony Stark could do. Stark will always think things are about him, Strange realizes it isn’t. Stark will change the world to make it better, while Strange changes himself to make the world better. Doctor Strange was more humorous than I expected. When I heard that Scott Derrickson, a noted horror film director was at the helm of the film, I definitely didn’t expect much humour. I was kind of expecting scary monsters and demons popping out from around every corner, and I’m glad that didn’t happen. Instead we got a Cloak of Levitation that had some hints of personality and possibly consciousness? The film balanced the humour with a tremendous amount of character, and incredible effects. There were scenes in the film that looked just like some of the surrealistic extra-dimensional Ditko panels from the original 1960s comic pages. Brilliantly rendered and I will say that this was a film that really used the 3D to its fullest advantage. Most times I pass on 3D, thinking it doesn’t really add to the experience, but I am actually very glad that I saw it in 3D. I will likely see the film again, and for budgetary reasons may opt for the 2D way, so it will be interesting to compare the experience.
As I said, Doctor Strange is not the best known character, but I enjoyed how Marvel drew in supporting characters from the comics for the true fans. Nicodemus West is an important character in the 2007 Doctor Strange The Oath story written by Brian K. Vaughan, and there were several scenes in the film that were lifted directly from it. There may a bit too much reliance on The Oath, but it is kind of understandable, the filmmakers did want to draw in new and old fans alike, and the book was very popular and is still readily accessible, unlike some older stories like Into Shamballa from 1986. Rachel McAdams plays a former love interest of Stephen Strange, and fellow surgeon who is similar to the Night Nurse character, but reportedly not as Night Nurse is being played by Rosario Dawson in the Daredevil and Luke Cage TV series. Benedict Wong as Wong showed a nice touch of comic relief at times, but also was a wonderful mentor character for Strange in addition to the Ancient One. The Ancient One herself is an interesting discussion. Much was made of the whitewashing of the character. Originally the character was an Asian male, now we have a Celtic female for the Ancient One. I really liked the interpretation and loved Tilda Swinton’s performance. A lot less of the rumbling about this issue has been heard since the film has released, and even the actress herself said that everyone should just wait and see the film before criticizing the decision. People were far less quick to judge the decision to cast black Chiwetel Ejiofor in the part of Mordo who was always white in the comics. For the record, I think he did an incredible job too. Benedict Cumberbatch is a great actor, and he took the role seriously. I think he was perfect and developed a very real character, and showed the fall and the rise of a changing person as he embraced his role as Stephen Strange surgeon, the fallen Stephen Strange, the mystic student Stephen Strange, and as Doctor Strange. I think that on the whole, Doctor Strange proves that by casting strong actors you don’t just have another comic book movie but you can elevate perception of the film have simply an excellent movie with comic book stuff added to it.
The hero of any movie is only as good as the villain, and to be truly invested in any antagonist you have to appreciate their point of view. The best villains are the ones who don’t realize that they’re even a villain. In Doctor Strange, you have Kaecilius has a strong point of view that he believes in. This puts him obviously at odds with the Ancient One and her students including Mordo who also has strong beliefs to counter those of Kaecilius. Mads Mikkelsen was a legitimately dangerous villain, even though he turned out not to be the ultimate big bad guy. Dormammu I thought was really well done and I learned after the film that Cumberbatch did the motion capture for Dormammu. The thoughts behind the realization of the character were that this godlike being did not really need a true physical form, and though it wasn’t obvious that it was Cumberbatch’s face on the Dread One, you could see some similarities which lends to the idea that Strange was fighting himself. The climax of the film to me was a believable way to defeat Dormammu. You have to trick a cosmic godlike being, and the way the film handled it really emphasized the change in Strange, the selflessness, the sacrifice, the oath to save lives, and the willingness to think and use magic creatively unlike Mordo, which was another key point of the story.
I really loved it and I can’t wait to see it again.
Bottom Line: There will be a sequel. We know this from the second post credit scene, if I were Marvel, I’d name the second film Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts, and since Marvel movies seem to come in threes, I’d name the third film Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme. Show his progress through the series of films, but that’s just me.