‘Doctor Strange’ Actually Worked

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[Total: 4    Average: 4.5/5]

When Marvel Studios announced the first Iron Man movie nearly a decade ago, many doubted that a second tier superhero could make for a box office success. Not only did the movie defy all these expectations, but made Iron Man a household name, and also jumpstarted the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. This set in motion a wave of movies that similarly surprised critics and viewers. The Nordic God, Thor’s journey was surprisingly human and relatable, Guardians ended up being a modern day Star Wars, and Ant-Man turned out to be an entertaining heist movie.

Despite these hurdles over premises that border on the absurd, they pale in comparison to that of Doctor Strange –  A skilled neurosurgeon is forced to quit his lucrative and successful career in medicine after a car crash, so he does what anyone else in his position would do; fly to Kathmandu and become a sorcerer.

Doctor Strange
Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange

While the actual plot of Doctor Strange was rather reminiscent of that of Iron Man – selfish prick-turned hero, with fancy cars, cool abilities, and an arsenal of quips – Doctor Strange was still unlike any of the other films before it. This was the MCU’s first foray into the mystical realm, and what could have been a campy, Green Lantern-style B-movie, turned out to be an excellent cinematic experience. Once again, Marvel demonstrated that levity and drama aren’t mutually exclusive; something DC will need to emulate to a degree if they want to see their future movies succeed (this isn’t anywhere close to DC’s only problem, but that’s for another time).

Spoilers

  • I refuse to call the experience “trippy” because I personally feel that comparing this to getting high or tripping takes away from the detail and imagination the visual effects team put into this movie. While I’m still of the opinion that 3-D is nothing more than a cheap (okay, really expensive) gimmick, this is one of a few movies I’d say is impacted positively by it.  That said, it’s still not necessary to enjoy or fully appreciate the movie.
  • Once I got past his heavily enunciated American accent, I was really impressed with Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Strange. My personal favorite scene had to be when Strange wakes up post-accident and sees his crippled hands for the first time. The emotional impact here is compounded by the fact that as a doctor himself, he knew fully well that this was the end of his career and the life he had built.
  • The whole time, I was unclear on the exact timeline. It may have been mentioned in passing when he reunited with Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) in the hospital, but I didn’t catch it. Strange became an advanced sorcerer pretty damn fast. He started as a novice who couldn’t conjure a portal, and in the next scene is kicking the shite out of zealots. His kung fu skills don’t have anything to do with the magic he learned with his Sherlock-mind-palace abilities, so it didn’t make too much sense that he became such an adept fighter on top of all the magic. Especially against enemy sorcerers with years of training on him.
  • Also, of course they gave Cumberbatch-Strange a photographic memory. It really seems that  the world Tumblr wants needs Benedict Cumberbatch to play a genius in everything that he’s in, from Sherlock to Alan Turing. Regardless, Cumberbatch plays the genius role flawlessly, so I can’t take that away from him.
  • I appreciated that they didn’t delve into an unnecessary romance. A relationship between Strange and Palmer was clearly established to highlight Strange’s gentler nature, but I was glad to see that runtime wasn’t wasted on a poorly developed, full-blown love story, like in Thor. (I mean why the hell was Nathalie Portman in that movie, other than to deliver bad exposition and eyef**k Thor?)
  • I’m not familiar with the Doctor Strange source material, so I don’t know how accurate the portrayal of the Ancient One was, at least in terms of character history. While I’m tired of white-washing in Hollywood, it’s impossible to deny that Tilda Swinton was a brilliant addition to the cast. She had so much gravitas and grace in her role. Hell, I’d believe she were a real sorcerer.
  • Marvel isn’t known for great villains, but Kaecilius was the coolest one we’ve seen in a while. Even though he ended up not being the “Big Bad,” watching an ash-eyed Mads Mikkelson running upside down on a ceiling, directly at you while wielding dark magic, is beyond terrifying, and also a string of words I never thought I’d make.
  • Side Note: The library was really unguarded.  The eye of Agamotto is just sitting there in the middle of the room like the main attraction at an Apple keynote. Also, even despite Wong’s warnings, Strange was also able to easily steal the books he needed off the wall.  I know they’re powerful sorcerers, but if they have wifi, why not also invest in a few security cameras?  Especially after what happened to the last librarian.

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