REVIEW: “Doctor Strange”

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As their bank accounts have blossomed Marvel Studios has shown a confidence and willingness to explore nearly every corner of their comic book universe. Obviously they have spotlighted their biggest properties – The Avengers, Captain America, Iron Man and so on. But they have also ventured into other areas occupied by lesser known characters (to some). Here you find movies like “Ant-Man”, “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the latest Marvel installment “Doctor Strange”.

When watching “Doctor Strange” it doesn’t take long to recognize what has become a familiar origin story blueprint for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s particularly similar to what we got with “Iron Man” and “Ant-Man” – a deeply flawed individual becomes the possessor of great power, he uses said power to face a sizable threat, he gets a measure of self-redemption, and then he is connected to the greater MCU through a an end credits scene. The names have changed and the powers are different, but it’s more or less the same formula.

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Something Marvel Studios does exceptionally well is cast their movies. Benedict Cumberbatch is the ideal choice to play Stephen Strange, a renowned neurosurgeon with a big IQ and an even bigger ego. After a violent car crash costs him the full use of his hands, he has several experimental surgeries all of which fail. Unwilling to accept his fate, Strange seeks out eastern medicine in Nepal. He meets with a mystic known only as The Ancient One (played by a shorn Tilda Swinton) who shows him he must put aside his intellect and look inward to his spirit, something that’s a bit difficult for a raving egomaniac.

The main antagonist is a fellow named Kaecilius (played with the appropriate amount of gruff by Mads Mikkelsen). He’s actually one of the more compelling characters – a sorcerer who deeply believes that he is acting for a greater good. Other characters include Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, the Anicient One’s right-hand man, Rachel McAdams as Strange’s (sort of) love interest Christine, and Benedict Wong as a faithful soldier/librarian named…well…Wong.

Director Scott Derrickson, most known for his horror movies, was given $160 million which he mostly put to good use. Locations are a highlight with filming taking place from New York City to Hong Kong to Kathmandu. But the film’s bread and butter lies in the special effects which range from merely okay to absolutely astounding. So often Marvel movies focus their effects on blowing up buildings or crashing large objects. “Doctor Strange” offers a new look that deals more with magic and the otherworldly. The visuals look their best when characters distort the dimensions of a cityscape. Think “Inception” but on mystical HGH. Whenever it plays around with the Dark Dimension stuff it doesn’t look nearly as impressive.

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Also in line with other Marvel movies is the humor. The MCU has wisely refused to take itself too seriously and the same applies here. The humor comes from a number of sources but most prominently from an inanimate object. The Cloak of Levitation is easily the most recognizable piece of Doctor Strange attire. Here it functions semi-autonomously and some of the movies funniest scenes involve the cloak running around with a mystical mind of its own. There are also a few clever lines where the film understands its absurdity and winks at the audience. It’s a much-needed ingredient.

“Doctor Strange” seemed like another wild stretch by the MCU, but if early box office numbers are an indicator they have another success on their hands. There are definitely some new things being done here most notably in the visual effects. The ending is also a nice diversion from the routine MCU formula. On the other hand, this is a Marvel origin story through-and-through which is getting a little tiresome even for a bonafide comic book fan like me.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

3.5 stars

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28 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Doctor Strange”

    • I like Strange too. As a long-time comic reader (up until a couple of years ago), I’ve always thought he was an intriguing character. I do think movie does him justice. I just think they followed their origin formula a tad too close for me. Still, FAR from being a bad movie.

  1. I’m certainly no Marvel fan girl, nor am I a fan girl of superhero flicks, but boy was this movie fun! If Marvel can keep me entertained from start to finish, I’m all about it. Movies like Strange and Guardians have definitely opened the comic book door for non-fans like myself 🙂 Great post!

    • That’s really interesting to me. I liked this one quite a bit but would put it below several of their others. It’s adherence to formula stood out to me. Didn’t kill it, but noticeable. I like it better than Guardians which I felt ran out of steam the further it went. But I’m definitely in the minority on that one! 🙂

    • Very much by the books when it comes to origin stories. I was basically Iron Man, Ant-Man, and even Guardians (to a degree) redone. I did love a lot of the effects. They did such a good job. I did think the Dark Dimension looked a little funky though.

    • Thanks so much. They definitely take risks, don’t they? I think that is one of the great things about their early movie successes. It has allowed them the opportunity to venture into these lesser-known characters.

  2. Some of the visuals made me a little motion sick but it was still a lot of fun. It was cool this time because I read the comics this time in advance and that helped make it a better experience

  3. I think we’re pretty much in agreement over this one; a fun, visually-stimulating film and I think you’re right re the casting of Cumberbatch – he’s a great fit for Strange

    • The Batch was fantastic. I do wish Mads was given a little more depth. He is such a great actor. Did you get the sense this was a retread of several other Marvel origin stories?

      • Yeah his (Mikkelsen’s) character was a bit by-the-numbers for me – hoping the guy they set up as a future antagonist fares better! Few villains stand out these days. I did feel this was more of the same in terms of the origin story, sadly, but that wasn’t a surprise at all. I guess we’ll see a few more over the next year or two!

      • If you look at their entire body of work, Marvel has had the toughest time with their villains. Perhaps it is a testament to how difficult it is to create a good villain, or maybe it is a weakness of their films in general.

      • Only Loki and The Winter Soldier stand out to me in recent years! I’m yet to see Amazing Spider-Man 2, but honestly can’t think of any more from the rest that make a lasting impression. Maybe the Red Skull, but obviously he’s had his moment!

      • HA!!! You mentioned the very three that have resonated with me the most! I really enjoyed Weaving’s Red Skull. Sadly he is all but forgotten by many.

  4. Doctor Strange wasn’t my favorite, but I did enjoy it. Cumberbatch and Swinton were great in it and the film’s visuals were excellent, but it was the same origin story narrative that has been told many times within the MCU.

    • Exactly. They have used that exact same origin formula with several of their movies. Like you said, it is still enjoyable. But I’m starting to recognize when these movies are treading over familiar ground.

  5. I don’t know why they keep doing shows like this. I don’t like to watch stuff about colon cleansing and eating seaweed milkshakes and lentil beans to open my bowels up. I drink three glasses of Metamucil a day to do that. Than he will put somebody on that show that sticks their hands in a bunch of innards to show folks how them cigarettes turn your innards black and you get that emphasyma. I think I’m going to start watching Judge Judy instead.

  6. Hey Keith, pardon my long absent, just been preoccupied w/ non-blogging related stuff lately. I mentioned that I haven’t got the energy/passion to write reviews, I tried writing this one but haven’t finished it yet. Honestly, the more I think about it, the less I like it. It’s kinda mediocre.

    • I understand what you’re saying. A couple of months ago I grew frustrated with some of the movies I was seen and took a break. I’d really been encouraged lately though. I’ve recently seen several movies that I thoroughly enjoyed. Unfortunately Doctor Strange isn’t one I expect to stick with me. It had some good parts but definitely not in the upper tier of Marvel movies.

  7. I didn’t like Doctor Strange at all. It felt formulaic and several plot points left me puzzled and disappointed. I thought Marvel could use this one to stage a different approach (given the mysticism and spirituality) of the movie’s themes…was kinda hoping for something more psychological and hard-hitting. Nice review anyways!

    • I can completely see that. It’s adherence to formula was a big sticking point with me too. As you mention, there is such an opportunity here for a different kind of superhero movie.

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