Doctor Strange Review
Reviewed by John Hussey.
Just when you thought the Marvel Cinematic Universe couldn’t get any better.
It’s fair to say we’ve been treated to some incredible expansions in recent years, what with Guardians of the Galaxy taking the MCU into space, and the recent Captain America: Civil War splitting our heroes into two factions. Now we have the addition of the Multiverse, bending the dimensions of time and space, along with Astral-Projection.
Despite all these fantastical elements we are still dealing with an origins story, something we are very accustomed to by now within the Superhero genre. But what Doctor Strange does that makes it stand out to all the rest is how it tells its narrative, combining it with all the strangeness introduced. There are clearly stages within the film which you can easily pick out as necessity within the origins story, making certain parts of the narrative rather predictable, but the film tries to do all of this in an interesting way, covered up by the pretty imagery on screen which goes a long way to distract you.
Though Doctor Strange is clearly not just about clever Hollywood trickery, it does have a great story to tell with a lot of engaging characters to follow, particularly our protagonist. Stephen Strange in the first act comes across as a Tony Stark wannabe, a show-off wanting to prove to the world that he is the best in his field of work. Along with this comes his ego, which can at times go above even Tony’s, as he picks and chooses who he treats depending on the challenge involved. This is a man who is supposed to save lives but instead uses his talents as a neurosurgeon to show off his genius.
You’d think that this kind of person couldn’t possibly be likable, and yet I found him more likable than Tony despite Stephen being more of an arse. There’s just something about Benedict Cumberbatch, much like with Robert Downey Jr, that sucks you in and keeps you invested. But I think with Cumberbatch it’s a whole different level of acting, one that is almost mesmerising in how he just combines himself with his role and becomes one with it. Like his role as Sherlock Holmes, he was born to play Doctor Strange and I think that’s what makes this movie, and its protagonist, such a brilliant display because it all comes together seamlessly.
What adds to the film is Stephen’s natural progression towards heroism. It doesn’t just happen like with most superhero origins, but instead takes real thought and determination. Even when Stephen has begun mastering his technique and comes into contact with the villain he still hesitates and questions what he is supposed to be doing, opting to return to his old life instead of becoming something more. With most heroes there is a definitive reason why they want to become a hero, and how to use their newfound powers but with Stephen the reason stems to selfish needs.
His character literally spirals out of control after his car accident, completely caused by his own ego, and he loses the usage of his hands and can no longer do the thing that made him feel superior. For the first time Stephen wasn’t on top of the world, and was no longer in control, and this damaged his mentality which resulted in him becoming desperate. There was one key moment that saw him breakdown in anger and lash out against his close friend, Christine Palmer, showcasing the worst of his egotism. This ultimately results in him locating The Ancient One and thus he journey begins.
The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) proved to be a great mentor character for Doctor Strange, one that Stephen had a shaky relationship with. To begin with she didn’t believe in Stephen and didn’t wish to teach him but as the narrative went on she started to become fascinated by him and wondered on his possibilities. On the other-hand Stephen found it hard to follow her teachings, wishing to follow his own methods of learning instead. Stephen also found it hard to trust The Ancient One once he had learnt her dark secrets; secrets that made you question her role and whether or not she was entirely for the side of good.
Doctor Strange also has some brilliant side characters. Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) becomes Stephen’s right-hand man, and close friend, after he comes to respect Stephen as he struggles to master the mystical arts. Mordo also becomes a secondary mentor to Stephen and helps him to find his way. It’s interesting when Mordo is tested by The Ancient One’s deception and begins to lose faith in the laws he thought were just that Stephen starts to become Mordo’s stimulation for continuing the fight.
However, the fantastic twist comes with Mordo ultimately deciding to leave at the end having witnessed his master and friend betray the rules in order to win the day, something he felt destroyed the honour he was taught to follow. This left the narrative open for some really interesting conflicts for future films and I look forward to seeing how Kevin Fiege and the team tackle this different path.
Wong formulated a lot of the comedic relief throughout the film but it was very welcome due to its sharp delivery. It didn’t ruin the flow of the film, nor his character who was always a straight man in his actions. Again, like Mordo, Wong became somewhat of a mentor to Stephen and helped him discover himself as he learnt the mystical arts and began to delve further into what he was capable of. Though this often led him to places he shouldn’t have gone, it all helped with his development. It stopped being about Stephen learning a way to get his old life back and instead embracing his new calling, a path that could lead him to actually helping people rather than just showing off.
It seems like Marvel Studios are finally producing some detailed villains for their films in Phase Three, following on from the introduction of Helmut Zemo. This time we have Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a man who at first comes across as a simplistic villain looking to harness the dark powers of the mystical arts for his own ends but slowly is developed as a man who wants to use the forbidden arts to create a better world. Kaecilius feels more three-dimensional and certainly plays off against Stephen rather well, especially in their comparison.
Kaecilius becomes a misguided soul and thus you understood his resolve, despite knowing his mind has been corrupted by manipulation. It turns out that he is merely a pawn for the real villain of the film, Dormammu. Dormammu is a fierce foe that is feared throughout the Multiverse and is introduced as the new “big bad” of the MCU. Within the comics, Dormammu is Stephen’s greatest adversary and is truly powerful. We only got to see a glimpse of its power, but rest assured I do not think we’ve seen the last of him and I wouldn’t be surprised if he crops up again within future Doctor Strange films or even becomes the next major threat for future Avengers films after Thanos.
I loved how the film incorporated all the new elements into the universe and expanded the MCU in a way that I didn’t think was possible. This massive comic-book universe has really become a whole new entity now and I really can’t wait to see where it can be taken. On top of this it was just an awesome spectacle and I really have to give credit to the fantastic direction and usage of special effects. They really gave Doctor Strange a massive edge and made it the most unique comic-book movie. It also made Stephen feel more unique as a superhero because of what he can accomplish with his powers. It’ll certainly be interesting seeing him interact with the other Avengers members down the line.
Furthermore, Doctor Strange has one of the most brilliant resolutions of all time in how clever it was and grand within its vision. You would expect there to be a massive showdown between the hero and the villain, like in all superhero films, but Doctor Strange decided to break away from that repetitive tradition by having Stephen use his head to defeat his foe, creating one of the most funniest and cleverly constructed solutions to a film. It really does go to show how far Stephen has come as a character and how he has mastered the mystical arts and uses the technique to become Sorcerer Supreme.
Without a doubt Doctor Strange is one of the best characters and films within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and goes a long way to showcase what Marvel Studios is truly capable of. In short, it is a must see movie. It’s enjoyable through its witty humour, strong characters, carefully structured story and character development, fantastic visuals and overall brilliance.