Doctor Strange was directed by Scott Derrickson and stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mads Mikkelsen.
Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme, Master of the Mystic Arts, first appeared on the Marvel comics scene in 1963 in Strange Tales issue 110 and was quite unlike your regular, real-world superheroes. He had an actual magic amulet, drew his power from extradimensional beings called the Ashanti and used scrolls and arcane arts. This was not a matter of technology so advanced that it’s indistinguishable from magic, as has been implied in the Marvel Cinematic Universe about Thor and the Asgaardians; no, I’m talking REAL magic. Of course, some of these spells required him to utter lines like “by the ruby rings of Raggadorr” and “by the eye of Agamotto” so…yeah. He was very powerful but it was still pretty silly stuff.
While most of us non-comic book reading folks may have thought Dr. Strange to be an obscure choice for a new Marvel mini-franchise within their burdgeoning cinematic universe, Dr. Strange was actually a character who was used many times throughout the years in cross-overs and as a guest star in other hero’s comics and yes, he was also part of the comic book New Avengers, which I’m sure is not a spoiler alert for future movies since Cumberbatch himself already confirmed that he will be appearing in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. There are also two post-credits scenes that make it abundantly clear we will be seeing more of Dr. Strange and that he is definitely smack dab in the middle of the Marvel universe now.
There are a lot of things that are very interesting in this movie. It’s a bit more cerebral than other Marvel movies and the climax of the movie is not what we’ve come to expect in terms of insane action sequences with the world falling apart and having to be saved at the last second by our hero. Well, it does get pretty wild but in line with Dr. Strange being more of a thinking man’s superhero, his solution is not just using brute force to beat the bad guys. I found myself quite impressed with how they went about doing this and I think you will too.
Now if you’ve seen any of the commercials or previews for this movie, you know that there are a lot of special effects sequences reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Inception and while I didn’t see it in 3D, I wish I had because I’m told that these world bending sequences were quite well done in that format. We’ve not seen anything like this in any earlier superhero movies and while Inception was presenting these as dream sequences, here they are very much occurring in the real world. And the effects are amazingly well done, with a veritable legion of special effects personnel recruited to make these look plausible and real. Not once did I ever question what I was seeing by any poorly done effects. I mean it – they really are amazing. But best of all, none of this visual spectacle distracted from the story line, but only served to move it forward. This movie never gets so wrapped up in the special effects that it forgets the story its telling.
Now just so you know going in, this movie is an origin story and it covers a lot of territory. There’s undeniable similarities to another Nolan origin story, Batman Begins, with the hero’s journey taking him from the West to the East to learn ancient and mystic secrets which transform him physically, mentally and in this case, spiritually. I didn’t find any of this derivative though. Dr. Strange is not Batman and while physical training is part of what he has to learn, it’s the smallest bit of his preparation for greatness. Be prepared going in to this, because not every question gets answered and not every plot point is resolved. I definitely want to see more, to discover where they are going with this and see how he is going to fit in to the wider Marvel universe.
There’s been some protests from Marvel comic book purists about Tilda Swinton’s role as The Ancient One, who is the head of the sorcerer order and teacher to Dr. Strange. Now I’ve heard that one of the screenwriters said that they changed a Tibetan him to an English her because a Tibetan teacher would not play well to a Chinese audience. I don’t know if that’s actually true but I will say that I thought she played quite effectively in this role. I think it was at a Comic Con panel that the director said that they changed the Ancient One to a female in order to put more diversity into the movie because other than Rachel McAdams, there are no other women in this movie of any substance and and Rachel is only featured in a handful of scenes. I have zero argument with the decision to have Tilda Swinton in this role and I think she did a great job.
In fact, all the actors in this do a great job. Mads Mikkelsen is an excellent antagonist and Chiwetel Ejiofor does just fine in the role of secondary teacher/big brother to Strange and his role in future films should be more than interesting. There’s a romantic interest with Rachel McAdams but like I said, there are unresolved plot lines and I’m really curious where they are going to go with them. Because this is an origin story, they have to hit a number of standard beats, but there’s enough original material throughout that you never feel that this is a paint-by-numbers production. The setup and teaching faze are somewhat predictable but Cumberbatch is so fun to watch that you don’t even notice.
Overall, I think you’re going to have a great time watching this movie, enjoying the spectacle and coasting along on a bit of a magic carpet ride. I can’t say that this movie is epic or grand in the same way that the Avengers movies or Civil War were, but it’s interesting, fun and original in a very similar way to Guardians of the Galaxy. For that reason, I’m giving this movie a rating at the highest level of Pretty Good.
Let me know in the comments what you think. Marvel Studios is continuing its tradition of cranking out great superhero fare and there is even more exciting work on the horizon.
Thank you for watching.