Doctor Strange Review (Non-Spoilers)

Been a while since I’ve done a movie review. My time is limited as I have a full time job and family but occasionally I am able to catch a movie the same weekend it comes out. Up until now, Marvel is rode an incredible wave of success with its movies and TV shows. Marvel has built a whole universe filled with men in advanced mechanical suits, extraterrestrials, demigods, a bulletproof black man, and a guy who can shrink to the size of an ant. However, Marvel has never really touched on magic….like real magic. Thor hinted to it in the original “Thor” movie when he mentioned to Natalie Portman Jane Foster that on Asgard, magic and science are one and the same. Heck, Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, is technically magical considering it’s able to discern someone’s worthiness. However, that’s the extent that Marvel went with magic. Now we have Doctor Strange which picks you up and throws you headfirst into magic, spells, astral projection, and alternate realities. Let’s see how it did:

Visuals

While I’m no perfect person in any sense of the phrase, I can say that I’ve never smoked or done any drugs in my entire life. That said, if I was on PCP, LSD, or any other hallucinogenic drugs, this movie would definitely trip me out. As many of you have likely seen in the trailers, the visual effects for this movie are outstanding and a must see in 3D. The trippy, kaleidoscopic scenes definitely let you know that this isn’t a regular Marvel movie. What’s interesting is that a lot of the action takes place in alternate dimensions but the “real” world is mostly unaffected. It kind of answers the question of “Where are the Avengers?”. In fact, the Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton) tells Dr. Strange that while the Avengers protect the physical world, the sorcerers protect the world from mystical threats. To that end, the movie does an excellent job of showing various characters manipulating the mystical world around them. It borrows heavily from the Inception playbook as well as shades of The Matrix. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing as Inception used a similar concept of being able to manipulate the dreamworld.

Acting

Benedict Cumberbatch was superb as Doctor Strange. Marvel once again nails this casting for their lead character. You really get the sense that Strange is an arrogant prick at the beginning. Also worth noting that Cumberbatch’s American accent is spot on. If I didn’t already know he was British, I’d think he really was an American. There has (and continues to be) backlash from Tilda Swinton being cast as the Ancient One. For the uninitiated, the Ancient One is of Asian descent in the original comic. To some, that screams of “white-washing” which is the practice of casting white actors in roles traditionally filled by non-whites in order to cater to a primarily Western audience. It’s kind of ironic though. If Marvel would’ve cast an Asian actor for the role, some people would’ve accused them of stereotyping. On the other hand, some people think since Marvel wanted to focus on Eastern philosophy, casting an Asian actor would be more authentic. Personally, I’m not all that concerned really. Marvel has done an outstanding job of trying to incorporate cultural diversity into their films. In fact, Marvel cast Chiwetel Ejiofor, a black actor, as Mordo, an eastern European white male in the comics. Regardless, both Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor deliver excellent performances as their respective characters. As a fan of the Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon, I really enjoyed the Ancient One’s fight scenes as the way she moved reminded me of how airbenders move.

The villain….wasn’t horrible. Actually, Kaecilius, played by Mads Mikkelsen, was pretty good as villains go. They tried to give him some backstory that makes his disillusionment of the Ancient One understandable. Unfortunately, Marvel missed an opportunity to flesh out his backstory more, perhaps by using a brief flashback. One of the main criticisms of the MCU is the lackluster villains outside of Loki. Most of them are seemingly one note without any kind of real depth that makes you care about them as the audience. The notable exceptions are the Netflix series. In my opinion, the Kingpin (Daredevil), Killgrave aka Purple Man (Jessica Jones), and Cottonmouth (Luke Cage) are some of the best villains Marvel has ever done for the MCU. Even though they’re evil, they’re given enough backstory and character to make you sympathize and care about them. Regardless, Kaecilius is sufficiently menacing with those black patches around his eyes.

Story

I’ll start by saying that this is an origin story. In many ways, Dr. Strange is very similar to Ironman and Thor. You have the arrogant rich guy who gets humbled by some major event. The guy then learns humility (or at least how to be less arrogant) and saves the world. In that way, Dr. Strange isn’t necessarily original but by introducing the element of mysticism and magic, it does allow the main character to grow in ways that Thor and Ironman didn’t. For example, Dr. Strange himself is a world renowned neurosurgeon. He is a man of science and essentially an atheist who believes matter is the only thing that exists. Concepts such as magic, spirits, and alternate dimensions are just fairy tales. Consequently, it is initially hard for Dr. Strange to cast spells because it goes against everything he’s believed. This isn’t too different from Morpheus teaching Neo to “free his mind” in order to enable impossible feats. Ironman, by contrast, is still skeptical of magic and depends wholly on technology to overcome obstacles. However, once his “eye” is opened (#illuminati), Dr. Strange realizes that there’s more than this plane of existence and that mastery of sorcery requires opening his mind to other possibilities. Overall, the story is satisfying and character arc that Dr. Strange has towards the end is organic and touching. In particular, there’s a scene near the end where Dr. Strange demonstrates the value of being selfless. It’s well done and I think most people will appreciate it.

As with most Marvel movies, there is plenty of humor, although it’s done at the right time. Mads Mikkelsen and Benedict Wong (who ironically plays a character called Wong) deliver a great comedic scenes with their deadpan humor. Dr. Strange himself kind of represents us, the audience, with various pop culture references. For example, there’s a scene in the trailer in which Mordo gives Dr. Strange a piece of paper with a word on it. Dr. Strange thinks this is some mystical item but in fact it’s just the Wi-Fi password with Mordo humorously stating, “Cmon, we’re not savages”.

Conclusion

Doctor Strange is an excellent, visually stunning movie that continues Marvel’s dominance in the superhero genre. While the plot is nothing too original, the addition of magic introduces new possibilities that could have major ramifications in the Avengers Infinity War coming in a few years. I would highly recommend watching this in 3D although it’s still enjoyable in 2D.

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