Marvel. Once upon a time, it was just a comic book company that gave the most memorable superheroes to grace the memories of multiple generations of fans. Well, it was inevitable that their famous characters would make it to the big screen and it’s been a hell of a roller coaster especially in the past ten years with the Avengers-related films, produced specifically by Marvel Studios, as opposed to Sony or 20th Century Fox.
It seems like only yesterday that the prospect of the original Avengers was too good to be true, but fast forward to today, we’re two movies in and a slew of other superhero films in between. Some of them never having been on the big screen before, like Thor, or Ant-Man. Well guess what? We have the latest pilot to a hero, Doctor Strange.
Once again, for those of you that don’t know, I’m not much of a comic book reader. I see these movies and might look them up on Marvel’s Wiki to get some idea of the character’s history and or future. So, I know next to nothing about this character, apart from the awesome animated film DOCTOR STRANGE (2007), which I imagine will be very similar to this film. Kind of already does minus the INCEPTION (2010) look to it, which I don’t think is a bad thing. In fact, there’s a lot of things going for it.
First off, the cast is incredible. Benedict Cumberbatch (ZOOLANDER 2 , THE INTIMIDATION GAME , and TV show SHERLOCK) as the title character looks fantastic and will most likely be great, as he’s always great… even if the movie itself is not. I’m looking at you, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS  and definitely at you, ZOOLANDER 2. Anyway, looking forward to his performance. Tilda Swinton (HAIL! CAESAR , THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL , and CONSTANTINE ), an acting wildcard, always known for her quirky and offbeat performances, but always leaving a fun impact on critics and audiences alike. A true chameleon in the performing arts and this looks to be no exception. But anyone else getting a “white chick Morpheus” vibe from her? Anywho… we also have co-stars Mads Mikkelsen (THE THREE MUSKETEERS , 007’s CASINO ROYALE , and TV show HANNIBAL), Chiwetel Ejiofor (TRIPLE 9 , THE MARTIAN , and 12 YEARS A SLAVE ), Benedict Wong (THE MARTIAN, PROMETHEUS , and TV show MARCO POLO), and Rachel McAdams (SPOTLIGHT , THE VOW , and THE NOTEBOOK ).
Now for behind the scenes. Directing and co-writing is Scott Derrickson (DELIVER US FROM EVIL , SINISTER , and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL ), which makes me a little twitchy. He’s primarily known for horror films, and one horribly panned remake of a classic sci-fi film. A superhero movie seems a bit out of his league. Even the stuff he’s only written don’t seem to be anything special or worthwhile, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough. But if Derrickson as the director made me nervous, take a gander at what makes me downright frightened: three writers. Derrickson’s partners-in-pen are Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill. Spaihts is a newcomer with only two films under his belt, the critically panned THE DARKEST HOUR , and the critically controversial PROMETHEUS . But he’s slated for a ton of projects in the near future, including the amazing-looking PASSENGERS (2016), THE MUMMY (2017), PACIFIC RIM: MAELSTROM (2017), and was announced to write VAN HELSING, due out… sometime in the future. Cargill is also pretty new, having only done the Sinister films with Derrickson. If I had to deduce anything, Derrickson and Cargill know each other and at least make the movies they want to see, but adding Spaihts could make the writing go either way and seriously make it choppy. Composing the music is the ever popular Michael Giacchino, known for ZOOTOPIA , INSIDE OUT , and a whole lot of J.J. Abrams’ projects. He’s also slated for ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY due out later this year, WAR OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017), and THE INCREDIBLES 2 (2018). Finally, the cinematographer is Ben Davis, a veteran of Marvel (AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON  and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY ), and fantasy films (WRATH OF THE TITANS  and STARDUST ), so we can definitely expect this movie to look gorgeous, huge, and all around epic.
All in all, I’m super hyped for this, and early ratings only have me even more excited. IMDb has it at a 8.0/10, which is fantastic and RottenTomatoes has it at a 91% (both as of 11/2/2016), so this looks like a big winner. This is my honest opinion of DOCTOR STRANGE.
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant neurosurgeon. Cocky, arrogant, and self-centered, yet harmless enough. But after getting invited to a special engagement, he gets into a horrible car accident. He survives, but his hands are horrible damaged to the point where he will most likely never be able to perform surgery ever again. But Strange can’t accept that and is willing to try any surgery, no matter how expensive or experimental, whatever gets him back on track. But everything proves fruitless until he hears about a case about a guy who was paralyzed and one day was walking again. Speaking with the man, Strange is directed to a place called the Kamar-Taj, in the Himalayas, where the man was taught to walk again. Strange spends the last of his money and makes his way there and eventually discovers Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who leads him to The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a supreme master of the mystical arts; magic. Turns out, Strange has entered this place of mysticism at a complicated time, as The Ancient One’s most talented pupil, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), became enamored by the power of The Ancient One’s long time enemy known as Dormammu, and seeks to give Earth to him for total domination. But Strange is there to heal his hands and get back to the way things used to be. But as the threats become closer and more direct, Strange must choose to become a sorcerer and help defeat the mystical evil that threatens the world, or turn his back on this new reality.
OOOOOOHHHHHH MYYYYYYYY GOOOOOOOD!!! WOOOOOOOOOOO!!! Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, where I even start?! AAAAAHHHHHH it was so awesome!
Okay! Composure! I got this.
Let’s start… like I always do, with the cast. Cumberbatch as Strange was awesome. He’s a slightly different approach to the 2007 animated version, who was more of a serious asshole, rather than a ego-centric likable jerk, but Cumberbatch is really nails everything. He looks great as the hero in the red cape and shining green gem. I bought him as a surgeon. “Please cover your watch.” Oh man, his comedic timing is pitch perfect. As per usual, Marvel movies are proving to be more competent comedies than actual comedies and Cumberbatch’s brand of fun is much welcomed. Beyond the funny moments though, he does very well with the more dramatic stuff too. There’s a scene where he’s in his apartment after his accident and Christine (Rachel McAdams), his former girlfriend, is trying to be supportive and take care of him, but Strange is a legit asshole to her. When he learns of the mystical dimensions, he’s seriously in wonder. Even when he’s training and asking questions, there’s never a sense of asking to respond, he’s genuinely trying to learn. It’s always an appreciative feat when they don’t make the learning-hero a whiny baby when he fails. Oh sure, you see frustration and a burning desire to scream and curse, even give up, but he never does. He keeps trying.
Swinton churns out a delightful performance as well. I feel like with every wise line, there’s a lingering punchline just waiting to happen. But more than that, you feel the frustration she has that her teachings have been called into question by one of her more gifted students and doesn’t want to train another. The threat of Dormammu is enough and now she has to contend with one of her own. Granted, her change of heart in training Strange is pretty easy, but you do see her having pride in his progress, her faith in his abilities.
McAdams as Christine Palmer is a wonderful little addition to the story as well. In fact, Christine’s dynamic with Strange is almost on par with that of Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. They are so funny and work incredibly well off of each other. Granted, Pepper had a more involved role in Tony’s arch as a hero than Christine did for Strange, but they probably have the most entertaining “romantic” relationship since Tony and Potts. You could also make the strong argument that Christine’s character was pointless; write her out of the story and it would have progressed just fine. But as true as that might be, she’s still an enjoyable enough character to be fun to have around. Here’s to hoping for a more involved role in the future.
I’ve been hearing one or two professional critics out there calling the movie “familiar.” That’s very hard to argue, and in fact, I do not disagree. Having not read any other reviews out there in depth, I imagine one of those reasons is because this film is basically IRON MAN (2008). Really think about it. You have an ego-centric protagonist, brilliant in every way in his field of expertise, a beautiful blond woman that he works with and is sort of a lover, is in some way separated from his home to a foreign land, triumphantly returns home a changed man, all the while fighting an evil dude whose backstory involves betrayal, and has the same abilities as he does. This is what I have to say:
I do not care! In fact, I might prefer STRANGE over IRON MAN.
Here’s the thing, while IRON MAN is definitely a movie that any fan should appreciate the most (starting the Avengers-related films, as well as re-energizing Downey Jr.’s career), the visual spectacle alone makes STRANGE more worthwhile to rewatch. What is the climax of IRON MAN? Tony fights in the streets, and on a rooftop. While fine for the time, the movie is a little dated in that respect. I know a lot of critics and general audiences would prefer some variation – no destruction of cities – in their superhero movies, but… I kinda like that stuff. I like big, I like world-shaking. Unless a Marvel movie is going to not have that kind of destruction at the end, say like in CIVIL WAR (2016), then it has to do something unique with it other than have a half-assed excuse for a couple of characters to fight again, unlike in CIVIL WAR. At least with a city being threatened, you have built-in stakes. What were the stakes in the climax of CIVIL WAR? Tension between Tony and Steve? That’s been there since the beginning of the movie. What are the stakes in the climax of STRANGE? A city being destroyed. Not unique, but not unimportant.
Also, the opening of the movie is basically GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014); the bad guy making a dude’s head… not there anymore.
Speaking of bad guys, Mikkelsen unfortunately joins the ranks of bad and underdeveloped villains, but honestly, like a comically bad Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees movie, I’ve just gotten so used to it that I stopped caring. If we get a good one, sweet. If we get a bad one, that’s pretty standard now, so I’m not overly bothered by this (waste of Mikkelsen’s talent, though). And it’s never quite explained why Dormammu wants Earth so badly. If there’s infinite dimensions out there, what makes this very specific dimension the prize of prizes? Eh, again, comic book movie villain logic, I guess. Honestly, every single problem that I think most people will have with this film don’t really bother me. I sure have my questions, but… eh. Whatever.
Overall, I don’t think I can recommend this movie enough. I’d say this stands pretty well on its own and you don’t need to see the previous Marvel movies in order to understand it, though there might be a reference or two that might fly over someone’s head. It’s a wonderfully executed fantasy and action film, marinated in great performances, marred only by some of the trippiest and mind-screwing visuals since INCEPTION. Seriously, it’s like looking through a kaleidoscope the whole movie. Entertaining and engaging, this is probably one of the best superhero movies of the year.
My honest rating for DOCTOR STRANGE: 5/5
- HACKSAW RIDGE