Marvel worked it’s magic again, this time literally!
Doctor Strange made his big screen debut to rave reviews and lucrative release both domestically and abroad, for good reason. This is both a top notch film visually, technically and successfully wrangles a difficult and fantastical character into the concrete, grounded Marvel cinematic universe.
First the plot dump (pretty simple really):
Stephen Strange (superbly executed in arrongant Sherlockian fashion by Cumberbatch), a famous, pompous and rich surgeon, loses the use of his hands in a car accident (caused by cell phone distraction of course), gets whiny and throws everything away in search of a cure. His former lover Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) tries to help him move on, but yeah, he’s too vain. After a paraplegic who mysteriously was able to walk again tells him where to go, Strange goes to Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu , and is taken in by another sorcerer, Mordo, and the Ancient One. The Ancient One shows Strange her magic, revealing the the true nature of the multiverse in astral planes and other dimensions, like the Mirror Dimension (think the Matrix training ground or the Inception dream world). Strange begs her to teach him, and she eventually agrees despite his arrogance, which reminds her of her old student-turned-evil, Kaecilius.
Cue the magical training montage, the face your death and face yourself scene, then the failure of Ancient One and Mordo to defeat Kaecilius (the former too lose with rules on using dark powers, the latter, too strict on breaking any rules). But luckily Strange is just the balance of neutral good the doctor ordered. He gets a little wibbley wobbley timey wimey with the help of his relic, the Eye of Agamotto, and the best side-kick since Aladdin’s carpet, the Cape of Levitation, and is able to bend time and space enough to defeat Kaecilius and cleverly time trap his dark dimension master, king of evil, Dormammu, only releasing him once he agrees to leave Earth alone. However, with the Ancient One defeated and Mordo abandoning his role as protector of the world out of fear of what Strange and other sorcerers can do, Strange is left oddly alone, even leaving the sorely under-used Rachel McAdams behind. That is until Thor comes to visit in the stinger scene and tells him he’s got the Time Gem inside his relic! The awesomely good looking duo then agree to help each other out in search for Odin (cue Thor Ragnarok)!
What Marvel was able to do brilliantly (like with Iron Man) was take a B-tier hero, whose premise and design is pretty far-fetched, comic-y, and out there and root him firmly in a heartfelt, humorous, and understandable character arc, grounding the fantastic in a very real and expertly executed performance in Benedict Cumberbatch. The proud man brought low, finding a new way to be, to leave old things behind, to find out what sacrifice is, to be surrounded by pain but not really know it until he has to face the ruin of his life and overcome it, not by healing himself, but by giving himself up for others: This is the arc that Cumberbatch effectively portrays with all his usual flair and oddity (with lots of nods and winks to 70’s music and old Marvel lore). This movie could have gone off the rails very easily and been laughable, but the only time I laughed was when I was supposed to, at a clever joke! They were true to the comic too, taking inspiration from the old 70’s panels of the dark dimension. And I mean look at this:
It would have been so easy to get really lost and cheesy with the mystic mumbo jumbo and the magic and forget who Doctor Strange is, but they didn’t. Just like with Iron Man, who could have gotten lost in tech and armor, but was grounded by Downey Jr.’s real performance of a proud man brought low, who finds away to use his genius other than for himself and his ego. There are strong parallels to that film in Doctor Strange, but with magic instead of tech.
Tilda Swinton kept a nice balance of mystique, grace and levity to the Ancient One, and Ejiofor did a great job bringing intensity to Mordo. Wong and Palmer were kind of forgettable, just there to service the plot, and I felt like the Cape of Levitation had more character. Mads Mikkelson, aside from having the best emo eye makeup in the Marvel Universe, (I mean look at this!)
was basically the same character he was in Casino Royale: bland meglomaniac. Nothing too exceptional. Cumberbatch is where the money is, and carries the film.
Costuming was awesome. Nice leather work and awesome robes! Technically, a great use of IMAX and 3D for magical effects and space warping. It’s getting to the point where whatever they can imagine for the screen, they can pull off. We are limited only by what we can imagine. I mean look at this:
I guess my overall review is : I mean look at this! Go see the movie!