And so, Marvel Studios brings audiences the story of Doctor Strange, another arrogant prick who needs a lesson in humility. Does this superhero origin story stack up with Marvel’s best or is this a subpar effort?
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a talented and renowned neurosurgeon who is also an arrogant narcissist. When his hands are irreparably damaged in a car accident—say no to distracted driving, kids—he seeks out means beyond western medicine to heal himself. He heads to the sanctuary of Kamar-Taj in search of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Strange hopes to be healed, but the Ancient One opens his mind to the magical realm and other dimensions. Strange begs to be taught in the mystic arts and the Ancient One agrees. Strange trains with her as well as with Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong). He learns of a former disciple of the Ancient One, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who hopes to use his magic to unleash the Dark Dimension and unlock the secrets of immortality. Of course for that to happen, the Earth will be destroyed. Strange must decide if he can let go of his ego and work with the other sorcerers in order to save reality.
I’m going to run down a lot of things that Doctor Strange does wrong, but please know, I didn’t hate the movie. I enjoyed everyone in the cast, even though Rachel McAdams is completely wasted in the role of Christine Palmer, a colleague and former lover of Strange’s. The visuals are unlike anything we’ve ever seen in a Marvel film, but the twisting cityscape effect that Director Scott Derrickson employs ad nauseam has already been done in Inception. I also enjoyed the ending—Strange’s solution to winning the day is very clever. It was also nice to finally see an introduction to Marvel’s magical realm. However, this film definitely has issues.
As usual with most of the Marvel films, Kaecilius is a very weak villain. We learn the most basic of details about him and that’s it. It’s a waste of Mikkelsen’s considerable acting talents. There is plenty of humor throughout the film, but in parts, it feels misplaced, throwing off the tone of the film. It’s also kind of ridiculous that Strange, a mystical neophyte, is supposed to be the big savior. He shouldn’t even be able to last five minutes with Kaecilius, but yet, he’s able to go toe-to-toe with him and his acolytes. It’s just something that makes it more difficult to suspend your disbelief. However, none of these points are the biggest problem with Doctor Strange.
If all the Marvel films have one thing in common, it’s that they are all about personal relationships. Tony Stark has Pepper Potts and Rhodey; Thor has Odin and Loki; Steve Rogers has Peggy Carter and Bucky; and so one and so forth. Doctor Strange has no real personal relationships in this film. Christine Palmer is barely a character, while all the other sorcerers are more like co-workers—co-workers that are kept at arm’s length. Mordo and Wong never become friends to Strange and in a film like this, friends humanize a character. So, you may find yourself not really caring about Doctor Strange at all, because he pretty much stays an asshole throughout the film. Part of the problem is because Derrickson and Marvel are more interested in building the magical world than they are in building up the characters’ relationships. It also doesn’t help that Strange’s origin film is very formulaic and very similar to past Marvel films—critics haven’t called him Magic Iron Man for nothing.
Despite the film’s problems, the cast does very well with the material. Cumberbatch is really good as the good doctor and I’m interested in seeing another adventure, but I’m not entirely sure I like Strange as a character. Despite all the controversy over her casting, Swinton is great as the Ancient One. I really enjoyed Ejiofor and Wong in their roles, but they’re not given much to do aside from delivering exposition. Mikkelsen and McAdams are stranded in go nowhere roles, which is becoming a habit for Marvel.
Overall, while Doctor Strange is an interesting entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is ultimately one of the weaker ones. Strange’s journey is fine, but it’s kind of hard to feel bad for him when A) his predicament is his own fault and B) he’s kind of a huge jerk. We’ve seen this film before even though the visuals are unique. And while a mediocre Marvel film is better than most others, it may be time for Marvel to flip the script if they want to continue keeping things interesting.