Have you heard of this Marvel thing? It’s this little indie studio making movies and guess what? They have been killing it. The 14th Marvel Cinematic Universe film, Doctor Strange sustains this momentum, introducing us to the mystical side of the MCU and a cool new hero.
Superhero origins are hard to make original these days with just about every possible angle used from Batman to Spider-Man (and then Batman and Spider-Man again). Doctor Strange falls into some of these tropes but comes out at the end barely even feeling like a superhero film, leaning more towards a psychedelic action movie.
The film doesn’t waste a lot of time with Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) as an actual doctor. He quickly gets into the car accident and loses major functionality in his hands. When he wakes up after a debilitating surgery, he laments being able to do a better job had he done the surgery himself. This is actually a really interesting dynamic of internal frustration we haven’t really seen with a Marvel hero outside of the Netflix shows. It would have been nice to get more of this, but the film clearly wants to get to the magical stuff.
You could pretty easily relate the first hour of the film to Batman Begins with Strange traveling to an icy third-world country to learn the ways of the force. Where it differs from that and any other superhero movie is its unique visual style. And unique it is: rooms collapse into themselves, the sky becomes the ground and colors pop in what is probably the most visually appealing Marvel movie yet. Strange’s magic abilities of teleportation and astral projection are aesthetically and practically different from other Marvel heroes you’ve seen. The climactic battle in New York is especially grand and unlike anything you’ve seen in a superhero movie. It starts to lose steam as it slows down near the finale, but the ending to the fight is creative, beautiful to look at, and indicative of the film’s personality.
Being the 14th chapter in the MCU, it’s easy for Doctor Strange to feel a little familiar at times. It has all the strengths of a Marvel movie like an extremely likable lead, perfect casting, action scenes with strong effects, and world building (the latter of which DC movies crumble trying to match). It also has many of the weaknesses of your typical Marvel movie like a shallow villain, a boring score, and a token love story.
Rachel McAdam’s character feels pretty useless here and I felt my eyes start to roll every time a cliched superhero love interest moment started to show itself, but I actually appreciated where it ended. Without spoiling it, it’s not exactly a happy ending for the couple, but I’m sure the sequel will Spider-Man 2-it and make everything happy again.
Mads Mikkelsen also feels wasted here as the villain. He is by no means the weakest Marvel villain (that honor still belongs to Malekith from Thor 2) but he won’t be competing with Loki or Kingpin either. The film just doesn’t spend very much time with him, so his arc feels like an afterthought. It’s hard to complain much though because the more time spent with the lead the better.
Now Cumberbatch is perfect as the good doctor. It’s actually a little eerie how good the casting is in Marvel movies and shows. Like other heroes before him, Strange is an arrogant guy who’s humbled and brought down to Earth where he finds his new purpose in life. Cumberbatch takes what could’ve been an overly familiar character and makes him endearing. In the same way Robert Downey Jr. was born to play Tony Stark, Benedict Cumberbatch makes the role his own and I can’t wait to see him in the next Avengers film.
Doctor Strange won’t change the genre like The Avengers did and it won’t top the critics’ charts like Captain America: Civil War, but it’s another reason Marvel is the best at what it does and another great entry to the most successful film universe of all time.
Oh, and make sure to wait through all the credits as there are two stingers at the end. My favorite part of watching Marvel movies is seeing fewer and fewer people leaving the theater when the credits start rolling. They are learning.
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