Movie Review: Doctor Strange (Disney)

It’s funny, I always liked Dr. Strange but he was never a fave marvel character to me in terms of comics. I always liked seeing him as a guest character […]

It’s funny, I always liked Dr. Strange but he was never a fave marvel character to me in terms of comics. I always liked seeing him as a guest character or side character like in Brian Bendis’s early 2000s New Avengers run or Jonathan Hickman’s late 2012 New Avengers Illuminati run.

I’ve always been familiar with Dr. Strange, and ever since  Favreau and Downey’s Iron Man (2008), I was wondering at the age of 14 years old, reading Secret Invasion at the time, “will we ever get to see all of these characters?” Fast forward from 2008 to 2016, 13 Marvel Studio films in and the public feels a bit of fatigue. The Marvel Studios formula has become synonymous to audiences, and its left audiences wondering if the MCU has enough in the tank to get everyone to stay on long enough to finally arrive in the Russo Brothers upcoming Avengers: Infinity War film and it’s sequel. So as the 14th Marvel Cinematic Universe entry, does this film help revitalize the MCU and bring something refreshing and different to its wide genre blending pallet? The answer is a nonexaggerated yes.

   This film really delivers in providing something that is uniquely different from what has come before in the MCU while also providing familiarity to the MCU formula without being slave to the formula entirely. The film does a surprisingly good job at mixing various genre elements that haven’t been displayed in such a distinct manner aside from Ant-Man. As I walked out of the theater, and spoke to a friend (Jimmy), we discussed how interesting it is that the obscure characters such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and Doctor Strange have opened the door to threats that The Avengers have no idea about. While The Avengers deals with the political, and physical realm, these other characters such as Doctor Strange, deal with more grander threats that are much more large scale as far apocalyptic proportions go.  Doctor Strange as a film has opened the door to what largely looms for not just Strange but quite possibly for the rest of the MCU going forward as a whole. The cast in this film was wonderfully selected and I can’t imagine a better cast that could have pulled it off in such a feat that rivals Iron Man (2008). I’ll go into detail in terms of each cast member and how they did in terms of performance.

The Protagonist:

Doctor Strange is obviously the main title character, but the question that is on everyone’s mind is this: Is Benedict Cumberbatch solid as a believable Sorcerer Supreme? Well..Yes. If anything, I think he fits the role as much as Downey’s performance as Iron Man.  Cumberbatch does a convincing job at making Strange an unlikeable guy when audiences are introduced to him. In terms of unlikeable I mean that he is really cocky, and is hugely egotistical that he alienates everyone around him. He has a god complex, always feeling the need to shine his intellect over everyone else’s. This sets him apart from Downey’s already likeable (from beginning to end) Tony Stark. Audiences know by now that Stark despite how cocky he was, never gave off vibes that made him unapproachable to anyone, especially if Stark were to make small talk, at least he would make it look like he’s engaged. Cumberbatch’s performance as Stephen Strange during his precursor to becoming Sorcerer Supreme really makes the audience convinced that he would be the kind of guy who wouldn’t think much of the loss of life, especially if it’s only one person’s life at stake.  He starts off as an arrogant, unlikable a-hole. Yet despite harsh beginnings,  through an incredible experience he transitions through his situations becoming more humbled and likable.

   There is a real character development that mirrors the way Spider-Man (another Stan Lee and Steve Ditko character). By that I mean that both Strange and Spider-Man are both characters that had no clear noble aspirations. All they ever originally wanted was fame and accolades rather than doing genuine good for their fellow man.  Strange really makes a full 360 transition that makes sense. He doesn’t want to be a hero, nor Sorcerer Supreme, he just wants to continue the profession that he excelled in that attracted his wealth in the first place. Seeing him as he wrestles through the various processes of hand therapy through exercises, and failed western treatments really cements the agony that Strange dreads before he is set on the path to find a cure for his condition. But in the case of Strange, sometimes what you want isn’t what you need. He learns this as the plot of the film progresses. This change of heart through trial by fire is what helps cement Strange’s transition to Sorcerer Supreme because he learns that it’s not about him anymore, that there is more to life than accolades and what he thinks he knows.  Each character is portrayed well and each serve a purpose beyond just being cardboard cutouts.

 Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One did a phenomenal job playing this character. Originally in terms of comics continuity, the Ancient One is portrayed as an elderly Asian man. This attracted controversy a year prior when need broke out that Swinton would play as The Ancient One due to the idea that Hollywood was whitewashing an elderly Asian character. It was a damned if you do, damned if you don’t sort of risk where it could have easily gone in the stereotypical direction of having an Asian actor play solely as a typical Asian elderly man. But luckily, this film proves the naysayers wrong due to her performance and the ambiguity of the Ancient One’s past.  There is a clever way that the original comic aesthetic of the ancient one is portrayed in the film with a different individual before Swinton makes her presence known.

   What’s most enjoyable about her performance Is that in the comics, readers never saw much from the ancient one. Readers never got a chance to see what the character was like beyond being a dying sage character. But this film, Swinton’s interpretive take on the Ancient one, humanizes the character in a way that was never really done before in the comics, which makes her character a welcoming presence every time she graces the scene. If you loved Swinton as Michael the Angel in the Keanu Reeves Constantine (2005) film, then you’ll enjoy how she performs as the Ancient one.

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Baron Mordo. Obviously, for those who’ve been a long time Dr. Strange fans, or have read tons of Avengers books, know what becomes of Mordo and his fate in terms of where he will stand with Dr. Strange. Again, in the comics, whenever there is backstory that displays a character such as Mordo, there isn’t a lot of connection that is displayed between himself and the Ancient One besides being an apprentice with motives. In the film, Mordo and the Ancient One are written in a believable way that displays just how deep he places his faith  and trust in the Ancient One. He is displayed as a brotherly mentor figure to Strange, and when circumstances happen to Mordo that makes him question all he has learned and believe, it’s done in such a human way that makes the audience sympathize with his own existential crisis of knowledge and belief. It’s the most human interpretation of a long time mainstay character that will play a much more prominent role in Dr. Strange’s life down the road.

  Rachel McAdams is  a delight and a believable supporting character that actually does not fall into the trap of cinematic romantic tropes. She plays the character doctor Christine Palmer who is a fellow surgeon of Strange and longtime friend who has had a romantic history with Strange, but once Strange’s hands are damaged and he is set on the path he is on, you actually feel the strain that her character goes through so when they come across each other again, she breaks from usual cinema (Let alone MCU) tradition of not being a typical woman that welcomes a man back after all the struggles that they’ve been through. There is believable chemistry between her and Cumberbatch that convinces the audience that there is a believable relationship and history between Palmer and Strange. It doesn’t feel forced like prior films, and it feels natural. Her character is written well and hopefully audiences will get to see her again in some form of way? Clea anyone? Oh, wishful thinking I suppose.

  Benedict Wong plays as … Well.. Wong! First off , how cool is that! An actor playing as a character that he shares the same name with. Destiny? Fate? What am I talking about? In all seriousness, Wong does a fantastic job at playing a very humorous but very steadfast version of Wong. He is dutiful and plays that role well. There is a funny scene where Strange is trying to make dry, witty jokes and Wong doesn’t buy any of it. But you see how he and Strange develop a kinship that will mirror what longtime fans are largely familiar with in the comics, as for newcomers they’ll grow to love how they bond.

The Villain:

    Mads Mikkelsen is known for playing very sinister villains in film. I have to admit that If there is any complaints that many viewers and fans such as myself always felt about the MCU is that there is a lack of solid villains with solid motivations beyond the typical “I want to rule or destroy the world” thing. Loki is usually the villain that most people tend to talk about as a villain that has played a large role since the Avengers (2012). Although audiences are aware of the arrival of Thanks since the MCU has been building up to this point, there hasn’t been a lot to see from him other than him sitting in his chair and then him getting up and seeking to use the gauntlet to get the infinity stones himself. With that said, Mads Mikkelsen’s character Kelesis is a villain that I hope to see return down the line. He is a great villain that really brings an interesting ideological conflict that challenges the morals and perceptions of Dr Strange, and Mordo.

    Kelesis is a character in the film that was a former student of the Ancient One, but somewhere down the road, he felt that Ancient One was hiding secrets that could provide a pathway to everlasting life. This path pushes him on the brink of obsession due to the realization that for him Time, is an enemy, it waits for no one and engulfs life no matter what. Due to this existential realization, he seeks to find a way to prevent death, but in order to do so, he’ll have to access power from the forbidden dark dimension. Thus path causes him to become the antagonist to Strange and when they cross paths, there is a existential and philosophical debate that lends itself to such themes that very well tie into classical Renaissance discussions of death and its meaning in the universe.

 Yes, the film isn’t just a typical marvel film with a typical “Roar Roar” villain. Mikkelsen is actually intimidating as Kelesis and is probably the most brutal villain in the MCU in terms of how he is able to use methods of Magic alongside hand to hand combat. His motives are clear, he feels that using energy from the dark dimension can provide life and prevent time from taking life away, or at least that is what he is blindly led to believe. It’s a shame that we get a villain that is not only brutal and way more intimidating than Loki, yet are unaware of whether or not we’ll see his character again. I personally enjoyed his performance as an antagonist that played no games, no speeches, is about his work and does it with swiftness.  

 Benjamin Bratt is also in this film. Side note, when I was a kid, I always used to think of him as a good candidate to play as Doctor Strange, especially if it was a late 90s or early 2000’s take on him. So I was happy and surprised to find out that he is in the film. His character isn’t too much of a focus, but he serves his purpose as the one that Strange seeks out in order to find his way to Nepal to find the Ancient One.

Special Effects:

The Special Effects in this film I feel, personally, will definitely set the bar in terms of what was set before. For years audiences have seen films such as the Wachowski siblings The Matrix (1999), the anime film Paprika, it’s Christopher Nolan inspired homage Inception (2010) that dabble with bending the viewer’s perception of reality, and including existential ideas of one’s subconsciousness, and place within the universe. With that said, when I mean that the crew within this film literally went all in in terms of crafting all the wacky Steve Ditko inspired imagery of the multiverses that Dr Strange has a beautifully inspired LSD sorta trip, they go all in. Its colorful, it’s fast-paced, when he’s flying through the universe and astral plane in his astral form, it’s like they mixed Alice in wonderland and Kubrick’s 2001 and flipped it upside his head. Heck at times, it felt like I was watching a Tool music video (Vicarious for example ) where there is a lot of abstract imagery such as hands growing from hands and then transitioning into faces.

The CGI for all the various spells and tools such as the Sling Rings which allow strange to travel through various destinations, or the Cape of Levitation behaving in a manner that reminds viewers of Aladdin’s Magic Carpet, really shine in this film. When Strange is able to use certain spells, the textile imagery that is displayed with every magical gesture is beautifully rendered that it really dazzles the eye to the limitless amount of potential that lies beyond the realms of cinema. If there was a Full Metal Alchemist live action film, Dr Strange would definitely be a good precursor on how to approach visualizing the alchemy from that anime/manga. Also, when a certain long time Villain shows up, he looks freaking amazing and intimidating in figure and size. Anyone that has an idea of the dark dimension, will know the villain that I’m speaking of. This character shows that if Marvel Studios were to ever retain back the rights to the Fantastic Four, or the X-Men, lord only knows how awesome they would translate Galactus or Sentinels given how wonderfully the CGI is made and used within this film.

IMAX 3D :

I’ll be the first to admit that I usually watch films in standard rather than 3D. Although despite my preference of seeing the film in standard, this film is actually fantastic in 3D. I forgot that I had 3D glasses on due to how well the 3D rendering of the film was able to transition so much information in terms of displaying the Special Effects in an effective manner. I had a blast watching the film in 3D and I admit that if you are to see the film in 3D, it’s worth the price for that visual eye candy.

 Director Scott Derrickson shows that he really knows his stuff and does a superb job at making a proper Doctor Strange film, and understands the character and the world that he inhabits. This film would have been in no better hands than Derrickson since he has displayed all of the technical sides of magic as well as the awe inspired, beyond belief aspects of Magic. Whether it’s talking about the Dark Dimension, The Mirror Dimension, The Eye of Agamotto, The use of Sling Rings and its use of instant travel, The Cloak of Levitation, Derrickson Truly understands the character and his world. Given that he has done tons of horror films and sci-fi films, he wonderfully shows that he had the chops to bring Doctor Strange to full fluid life.

 Derrickson did a commendable job at introducing concepts in a streamlined and easy way where the audience isn’t overwhelmed by cerebral themes, but at the same time aren’t dumbed down by the CGI and action. He provides a good balance of direction, making sure that humor is placed appropriately, and whenever there is a threat, he wonderfully displays that severity without half-assing it. The story structure may be typical marvel fare, but Derrickson, along with his co-writers Jon Spaihts, and C. Robert Cargill do an excellent job at crafting a film that although it develops in the usual marvel movie structure, finds ways of breaking away from certain tropes and plays around with it a bit, which help to make it as refreshing as it is familiar. One wonders what DC Comics Green Lantern could have been since Doctor Strange executes the relationship of mentor, apprentice, rookie and master sort of themes.

  The sound track by Michael Giacchino is has its own cinematic flair. It’s not as strong as The Avenger’s score soundtrack by Alan Silvestri but it does a good job of providing its own impression and has some Addams Family/ Beatles vibes at times. It’s definitely one of the more stronger soundtracks because the MCU films don’t often have that, but thankfully, this soundtrack is a welcomed edition alongside Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers.

  In terms of the film. In terms of art direction, existentialism, abstract themes, textile design, and story development, it’s more darker than any of the MCU films. By dark, I describe it as dark by MCU film standards where characters get killed in more visual ways than it’s often shown or shied away from in most MCU film.efforts prior to Doctor Strange.  The art direction is beautiful in terms of how each set feels lively, and the display and design of the environments that Strange inhabits feel natural as they are beyond that.When the dimensions and multiverses are displayed in this film, it dwarfs how complex and awe when witnessing the micro-verse that was displayed in Ant-Man. There is a cool and subtle Stan Lee cameo where he is reading Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception as Strange is fending off kelis’s in the mirror dimension.

I wonder how they will balance out his abilities along with all of the other Avengers members. The Russo Brothers Captain America: Civil War was a good example of how to balance characters, conflicts and motivations in a plausible light that made viewers enjoy the story as much as they enjoyed the CGI slugfest. In terms of the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War film and its sequel, I wonder how Doctor Strange will balance out with all of Earth’s mightiest heroes. That’s gonna be a big challenge for the Russo’s in regards to juggling the varying power sets that are established in the MCU. If there is any complaint that I have with this film, it’s probably due to the fact that I’m left wondering whether Mekkelsen will ever return as Kelesis because I feel that there is so much that we have yet to see of this antagonist, and I’d like to see his backstory fleshed out more.

There is a mid and after credits scene that connects itself not only to the MCU as a whole but also opens a doorway to what will be expected in the next installment of the Doctor Strange sequel.

If anyone is a art student, illustrator,  printmaker, philosophy major,/anime/ manga or are fans of films/tv shows such as Doctor Who, The Matrix, Aladdin, Mortal Kombat, Paprika (film), Inception, Alex Grey, Salvador Dali, Aldous Huxley , Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, existential, surrealist, interior design, textile design lover or fan, then they will love this film as much as long time comic book fans of Marvel and the character will. If you’re not really much into comics, understandably so, I think as a viewer you might find something in the film that will appeal to you in a way you may not have originally perceived.  Obviously, this is solely my opinion, you can see the film yourself and be the judge. I went in with low expectations and came out of the theater surprised at what was displayed and I’m pretty sure regardless of expectation, other will feel the same. Overall, it’s an enjoyable movie, and I can’t wait to see where Strange will show up next.

Anthony Andujar Jr.

About Anthony Andujar Jr.