Marvel’s Doctor Strange is not your average superhero movie. Sure, there are capes aplenty and a cosmic baddies with an axe to grind with Earth, but the movie feels more like Harry Potter by way of The Matrix than the latest installment Marvel’s multi-billion dollar superhero saga. The film feels familiar in the ways you might expect – and that can be both good thing and a bad thing. Does the Sorcerer Supreme have what it takes to be the next big MCU hit? By the Eye of Agamotto, it may!
An Original Origin?
Despite a passing mention in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a newcomer to the MCU. And we know what that means: origin story! A brilliant surgeon and wealthy bachelor living in New York, Strange’s life is forever altered after his hands are crushed in a devastating car crash. Desperate to heal himself and having exhausted all medical means (and his bank account), Strange heads to the Himalayas in search of Kamar-Taj, a mysterious community of mystics that he hopes can cure him. There he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), an ageless sorcerer who schools him in their magical ways in the hopes that Strange can aid them in their fight against Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a rogue sorcerer attempting to unleash an evil that will destroy the world. Stop me if this sounds at all familiar. Doctor Strange features a standard superhero origin infused with more fantastical elements. You’ve seen a version of this before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching.
The Deep End
Doctor Strange may be another origin story, but it thankfully doesn’t hold the audience’s hand when it comes its fantastical elements. As the Ancient One tells Strange at one point, it’s an infinite universe, one of infinite possibility and danger. The character and his magical world are so out there (even by Marvel movie standards) that it could easily spend another movie explaining how everything works and still not scratch the surface. The movie leans hard on its high concept conceits – astral projection, time manipulation, matter manipulation, and multiple universes – and it gives the audience, now seasoned by nearly a decade of continuity, enough credit to know that they’ll be able to keep up. It’s bold, it’s breathtaking, and you’ll want more.
Put on the Glasses
Normally I wouldn’t recommend seeing a blockbuster that had been converted to 3D in post production, but having seen the film in both 2D and 3D, I can safely say that the stereoscopic effects in Doctor Strange are used in novel and incredibly immersive ways. The film applies the visual language of sci-fi/fantasy classics like Dark City, The Matrix, and Inception to the Marvel universe in new ways, and the 3D makes it all the more mind blowing. This one is worth it.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s American accent is, for lack of a better term, atrocious. The actor’s normally deep, regal voice – one of the reasons he was likely cast – is completely strangled by the needless affectation. Cumberbatch’s bad Yankee accent becomes even more obvious in the scenes he shares with Londoners Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo), the former employing her normal voice and the latter a stage-worthy Shakespearean delivery. Thankfully the film never lingers on the accents long enough for them become a problem, but if the Ancient One can be centuries-old Celt, why can’t the good doctor have an English accent?
That Villain Problem
Marvel’s villain problem persists in Doctor Strange – and not even Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Hannibal), despite being consistently great in pretty much every scene, can rescue the franchise from underwritten heavies with shallow motivations. The film’s larger villain Dormammu (there’s always a bigger baddie) isn’t much of a presence in the movie until the finale, but when he finally does show up he’s sufficiently scary as an evil space face out to conquer Earth because… reasons! Is it so much to ask for a villain with clear and interesting motivations?
Bottom line: Doctor Strange is the most interesting and visually arresting movie to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a long time. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t suffer from many of the same problems that plague this ever-growing franchise though. There’s always room for improvement, but it’s a solid foundation for a new generation of magical Marvel heroes to launch into action. As the post credits scenes gleefully infer, we’ll be seeing a lot more of the Sorcerer Supreme in the coming years.