Doctor Strange – A Review


I consider myself a Marvel girl, but I am a Marvel movie girl. I’ve never actually read any of the comic books that these movies are based on, so I have varying degrees of familiarity with the characters that they depict before watching. The most famous of the bunch – your Hulks and your Spider-Mans – I was pretty well versed in prior to their film adaptations. Others I had a basic working knowledge of, but didn’t know most of the details. Even the most obscure characters to be depicted on the big screen I at least picked up some information about – I knew what Ant-Man’s power was and though I didn’t know the specifics I was aware that Guardians of the Galaxy took place in space and that a talking raccoon somehow figured into things. Not a lot to go on, but it was something.

Then along came Doctor Strange – a character that I knew absolutely zero about.

I don’t think that I even was aware of Doctor Strange’s existence until the movie was announced. Honestly, I kept getting him confused with the Spider-Man villain Doctor Octopus. Watching the trailers didn’t clear up much for me either; all I surmised from them was that Doctor Strange looked like a magician and that there was a decent chance that his movie was some sort of Inception derivative, based on the buildings folding onto themselves and whatnot. When I walked into the theater, the fact that this character was such an unknown quantity was both exciting and unnerving.

Doctor Strange is an interesting new chapter for the Marvel Universe; to date, all the Marvel movies have been somewhat grounded in reality. Admittedly, it is hard to argue that a world where a man turns into a big green monster when he’s angry is “reality,” but there is a method to my madness. While superhorse may not be realistic per se, so far all the characters in Marvel films have received their powers through logical means – scientific experiments, mutations, etc. Thor is an obvious exception, but he is also not of Earth or even our universe. Doctor Strange is the first step for Marvel into sorcery and mysticism. Instead of Doctor Strange obtaining his powers from the more traditional methods previously introduced, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) can thank magic and the tutelage of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) for his transition from arrogant surgeon to less-arrogant superhero.

Perhaps the best part of Doctor Strange are the visuals; this is a breathtaking movie from the jump. The open seven minutes of the film may be the most visually stunning and impressive sequence of any Marvel movie to date. It’s simply breathtaking and is likely a frontrunner for Oscar consideration. I had worried that some of the visuals would be too familiar after watching Inception, but that was not the case. The action sequences are thrilling and disorienting (in a good way). I didn’t spring for IMAX or 3-D for my viewing and this is one of the few instances where I kind of regret my frugality as I imagine that these scenes are even more spectacular in either format. From what I’ve read, the film adaptation is loyal to the more psychedelic vibe of the comics; there were a few moments during the movie where I wondered if perhaps someone had slipped me LSD since it was so cosmic and trippy. Doctor Strange is dazzling and weird, which is a hard combination to find.

I really enjoyed Cumberbatch in the title role and he really fits the personality of the character well; not that I’ve seen him in the role, I really can’t imagine anyone else ever playing Doctor Strange. But as great as I thought Cumberbatch was, Swinton really steals this movie. Though there was some controversy about casting her as The Ancient One, she is fantastic. She is fierce and funny and you instantly believe that she possesses something not of this world. Every scene that she is in, she owns, which is saying a lot since she shares screen time with other excellent actors like Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mads Mikkelsen. If I had one major complaint about Doctor Strange is that it doesn’t give Rachel McAdams much to work with as Strange’s colleague and love interest. This is a problem with most superhero movies, but McAdams does her best to rise above the material that she’s given.

What I also liked about Doctor Strange is that it is basically a stand-alone Marvel movie. While I am a big fan of the Avengers and the interconnectivity of all the movies, it does get a little tiresome when they are trying to shoehorn in other Marvel characters to fit the individual movies into the greater universe. Doctor Strange only makes passing mention to the existence of the Avengers and I think that the movie is the better for it. There are no gratuitous cameos or forced references; Doctor Strange focuses on telling the origin story of one character and one character alone. There will be team-ups with the Avengers down the line – one of the post-credit sequences makes that clear- but it is a nice change of pace for them to be confident enough in this character’s arc to not bring in any other distractions.

Some other thoughts:

  • I didn’t realize that there was a Doctor Stange/Pink Floyd connection prior to seeing the movie, but they do make a subtle reference to that in the film.
  • I’d be willing to defend Earth from the dark dimension too if I got to live in a sweet townhouse on Bleecker Street in NYC. That’s some prime real estate.
  • This movie is surprisingly funny. I didn’t expect that going in, but there are plenty of laughs. Perhaps the biggest reaction from the audience at my viewing was the payoff of a long-running joke featuring Wong (Benedict Wong). He’s great in this film too.
  • There are two post credit scenes, so make sure that you stay through to the very end.  This explains their significance.

Considering that I had no idea what to expect from Doctor Strange, I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I can’t say that I necessarily understood all of it, but that can be said for pretty much every Marvel movie (I still don’t really grasp what the Tesseract is, other than everyone wants it). This move into the more magical and mystical parts of the Marvel intrigues me, as I’m not really sure what other characters and stories are lurking in this particular part of the Universe. Doctor Strange is a giant visual departure from its predecessors, but at its heart it is still a traditional Marvel origin story. Doctor Strange really isn’t all that different from Iron Man – their powers may be different, but their personalities and their fall from grace are both pretty similar. Doctor Strange is indeed a long strange trip, but it’s one worth going on.

Doctor Strange opened nationwide on Friday November 4th.