Review: Doctor Strange

The latest installment of the Marvel mega-franchise-cinematic-universe is here and it has arrived in the shape of Dr. Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme and master of the mystical arts.  I’ve been waiting for this one for quite a while as it marks yet another new direction for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the introduction of magic.

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The good doctor is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who depending on who you ask, is either the best possible choice for the role or the worst.  Personally, I fall in the middle.  I was happy to hear Cumberbatch was cast, but at the same time I was hoping Marvel would have taken a risk and cast a bit more of an outsider, and it also would’ve been nice to have a non-white guy leading man (more on that later).  Cumberbatch does a good job with the cocky doctor Stephen Strange who is a top neurosurgeon.  When Stephen’s life takes an unexpected turn after a car wreck, Cumberbatch does a good job showing just how far he will go to get his old life back.  Without the use of his hands, he doesn’t know what to do with himself.

That’s the main thrust of the plot and the first two acts of the movie.  Strange as a doctor is a story we’ve seen before.  Pride comes before the fall.  He is on top of the world and can do no wrong.  He is arrogant but has the skills to justify his arrogance.  Then he loses it all.  If this wasn’t a Marvel movie, it could just as easily be Regarding Henry where he has to re-evaluate his life and his priorities after a terrible accident.  But, that’s not this movie.  Here he seeks out a temple in Nepal for a magical cure.

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The training scenes are fun, again it’s a lot of things we’ve seen before.  However, what really sets this all apart is the fantastic visuals.  The filmmakers really push the boundaries of not only what can they do with visual fx, but also the various ways that the characters can bend the world and reality around them.  There is a lot of talk of the multiverse and different dimensions and we see some very trippy visuals.  The visuals look like a 1970’s black light poster which I have to believe was intentional.

We see that Strange takes to the mystic arts quite well and quickly growing in strength.  What isn’t really explained well in the film is why they seemed to have chosen him to take on this role.  Of course, I might be looking too far into this since I know going in what the character becomes.  The Ancient One and the other masters may never have intended for him to grow to such heights within, but the whole time it does feel like he is treated special, or it could just be that we never really get to interact with any of the other students, they are simply nameless extras.

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To discuss the movie, you have to discuss the albino elephant in the room, the Ancient One.  In the comics, the Ancient One is your typical wisened old Asian man.  I give the filmmakers credit for trying something different with the character and trying to avoid that very old trope.  However, the filmmakers missed the mark completely by casting Tilda Swinton in the role.  Now, she does do a good job and has an alien enough look that you could believe that she has been around for a very long time and been exposed to powers that we can’t comprehend.  But, you also can’t get over the fact that there is a wisened old mystical master in Nepal who is very much a white lady.  Marvel is in a difficult situation here, damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  While Swinton is good, she never quite feels like she is a part of the world, and it can be mildly distracting.  Especially considering the discussion that has happened online.

While I wouldn’t call myself an expert on Dr. Strange in the comics, I feel I have read enough from different eras to get a feel for the character, and this felt like Dr. Strange to me.  Everyone in the cast did a good job with their respective roles.  The only real complaint I can level against the film is that it does follow the very typical Superhero origin story pattern.  But, the film is entertaining on many levels, has a good amount of humour, mind-bending visuals, and a pretty interesting finale that is not one you see coming.  Doctor Strange sets up several things for the next set of Marvel films that I can not wait to see.

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