Review: Doctor Strange Is A Solid Marvel Origin Story With New Paint
Title: Doctor Strange
Director: Scott Derrickson
Summary: A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts.
I like to think that the moment Marvel Studios pulled off Guardians of the Galaxy most bets were off of the table. That being said people kept asking the same question, “can Marvel pull this off?”, despite the fact that they have one of the best track records of any series. “Can Marvel pull off Ant-Man?” and “can Marvel pull off Captain America: Civil War?” have all been topics of conversation and I believe it’s time to move beyond them. Much like Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange is introducing an entirely new part of the Marvel universe and it might not go over well. It’s a movie that has had a lot of backlash due to some casting choices (a great interview with director/writer Scott Derrickson addressing the backlash is here and I’d recommend it) and trepidation from even the hardcore Marvel fans.
Doctor Strange is a visually stunning movie that takes the traditional Marvel origin story and adds a much needed new layer of paint.
The most common comparison is that Doctor Strange is very similar to the original Iron Man, mostly because our main character, Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), is an arrogant jerk who loses nearly everything and must redeem himself as a hero. In this case Strange is actually a much bigger jerk than Tony Stark ever was and the loss is much more literal as he suffers severe nerve damage in his hands after a car accident. However, I’m much more inclined to liken it to in that it brings in a new genre to the Marvel universe and is quite approachable to the layman. Once the audience wraps their heads around the fact that “magic is a thing” in this universe then it becomes exactly what you would expect from a Marvel origin story, all the good and the bad.
In this case the good means we get an extremely interesting lead. Strange is nothing short of a jerk before and after his accident. His journey from that to hero is believable in the same way that Tony Stark’s redemption also felt genuine. The supporting cast is also extremely well done with Strange’s relationships with fellow sorcerers Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong) being the highlights. Wong is a character that has changed considerably from the comics where he inhabited every Asian stereotype known to man. The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) is a fascinating character with a sketchy casting job (see above article). The visuals, however, are the things that set this all apart. We’ve seen redemption stories and we’ve seen superheroes but this looks very different from anything we’ve seen so far. It’s great visuals are one of the few times I need to recommend seeing this in IMAX 3D.
The movie isn’t perfect. As with previous Marvel movies the villain is quite lacking, despite what the fantastic Mads Mikkelsen putting everything he can into a rather empty role. The Marvel movies tend to focus on the protagonist’s story and worldbuilding above the villain, which is why the trope of Marvel movie villains going insane for no reason exists. Kaecilius is ultimately one of those villains and the final reveal of what is going on is likely going to annoy some comic purists. The thing that really brought the movie down for me is how little they do with Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). She only has a handful of scenes, and while she is interesting and her relationship with Strange is believable she ultimately isn’t given much to do. I was, however, thankful they don’t make her a “damsel in distress”.
Doctor Strange is probably going to be a movie that is going to pull more people into the Marvel Cinematic Universe which is something I never thought I’d say. The overseas box office is looking promising, and we’ll have to see how this does worldwide, but I have a good feeling. As for the ramifications for the rest of the MCU? Well, they drop a few huge bombshells that ensure Strange is going to continue to be around. The first credit scene sets up what could be a fantastic dynamic in a future movie, and the final credit scene sets up a sequel that is no doubt going to be on the way. The existing Marvel fans are already going to see this but Doctor Strange is, ultimately, a fun movie for everyone.