Marvel Studios continues its quest for world domination one movie at a time with Doctor Strange. It’s truly astonishing to see how far the Marvel movies have come since Iron Man came out in 2008. It’s about as weird a Marvel movie as we have yet had. Although, with Thor, Ant-Man, and Guardians of The Galaxy coming out well before this, I believe audiences have been conditioned to accept the (ahem) stranger parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Indeed, Doctor Strange is a very weird movie but it is also Marvel’s most visually stunning movie yet.
Doctor Strange begins by introducing us to the titular doctor, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Stephen Strange is a brilliant and narcissistic neurosurgeon who, after a terrible car accident, is left unable to practice medicine. After exhausting every traditional option, Strange heads east to cure his damaged nerves. Once in India, he encounters The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her disciples, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong) who agree to teach him the mystic arts.
Benedict Cumberbatch was an excellent choice to play the Doctor. I was worried that we would be stuck with him using a poor American accent but thankfully it worked much better than I thought it would. Cumberbatch as always played cocky quite well (see the BBC’s Sherlock) and he uses that skill to great effect here. Strange is insufferable at the start of the movie and it’s pretty frustrating to watch his pride push away everyone who wants to help him.
One of the movie’s strengths is in how it presents Strange’s journey from cocky neurosurgeon to a sorcerer dedicated to protecting the earth. I loved how the movie constantly confronted Strange with his own selfishness and hypocrisy. Listen, high art this is not. The writing isn’t subtle, nor are the themes that are being presented. However, it was done so in a way that I felt was both convincing and thoughtful, and only occasionally beats you over the head with them.
As is usual in a Marvel movie, the supporting cast is top-notch. Both Swinton and Ejiofor give great performances as Strange’s allies. Both Mordo and The Ancient One challenge Strange in great ways and are instrumental to his character growth. I felt that the movie gave each of them enough to do to justify their presence. Benedict Wong also puts in a great performance as Wong, one of The Ancient One’s followers. One aspect of Wong’s character has a hilarious payoff late in the movie (it’s not plot-related per se but I don’t want to spoil it).
I’ve got to give a huge shout-out to Mads Mikkelsen (from TV’s Hannibal) as Kaecilius. No, his character doesn’t magically solve Marvel recurring problem of having fairly forgettable villains but, it’s a step in the right direction. I felt like I understood Kaecilius’ motives better than most Marvel villains and they felt a touch more convincing as well. My fondness for Kaecilius could be blinded by how much I like Mads Mikkelsen but, I’m ok with that.
Rachel McAdams is also in this movie as one of Strange’s colleagues but her role is small, to say the least. She does the best with the limited screen time she’s given.
One of the most striking aspects of Doctor Strange is its visuals. I haven’t been this entranced by a movie since Inception. The way Strange and the other characters bend reality around them creates some impressive shots. One particularly memorable sequence occurs midway through the film as Mordo and Strange are fleeing from Kaecilius through. As they run through New York, the world begins twisting around them and it is a treat to watch. At least visually speaking, Doctor Strange has really set itself apart from the rest of the MCU.
One of Doctor Strange’s greatest strengths as a movie was that it wasn’t a slave to the rest of the MCU. Yes, there were the usual mid and post credit scenes that tease things to come but I felt like the movie was much more focused on establishing this character (as it should’ve been) than servicing the next five movies that are going to come out (looking at you Age of Ultron). It told a story that could stand on its own without you needing to see the other 15 movies in the MCU. Of course, if you have, you’ll catch a few more nods but it’s by no means a deal breaker.
I was quite pleased with how Doctor Strange turned out. Director and writer Scott Derrickson did a commendable job introducing Strange to the MCU while also telling a good origin story. If you’re in the mood for a superhero movie with a very distinct look then Doctor Strange is the movie for you.