Doctor Strange, similar to the Guardians of the Galaxy but not quite that radically obscure, is, or was, a character that even few hardcore comic book readers had more than a passing familiarity with up until very recently. However, when Benedict Cumberbatch bought Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme to life on the big screen in 2016, he became a character that not only truly resonated with audiences, but one that opened up a huge corner of the Marvel universe that was previously unexplored. Doctor Strange is not only one of the best MCU origin movies, but a very important one.
It’s worth saying before I dig too heavily into this that this is by far the most personal movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for me. I’ve adored these movies from the start, but Doctor Strange was always a character I cherished above (nearly) all others. But he wasn’t terribly popular until very recently. Never in a million years did I, as a fan, think I would see this movie exist. Yet, because the previous movies we’ve discussed on this journey to Avengers: Infinity War series were so successful, Stephen Strange got his day in the sun. It’s something I have a difficult time approaching with total objectivity. Though, because it was so personal to me, I likely would have been the first to tell you that the movie sucked. Doctor Strange most definitely does not suck.
From the very start, director Scott Derrickson makes a statement that this is going to be one of the most visually interesting MCU movies ever. The idea of using sorcery to bend reality makes for quite the spectacle and allows for a lot of inventiveness in the action scenes throughout. Yes, this movie does owe a thing or two to Christopher Nolan’s Inception, but this isn’t a rip-off in my mind. Sure, there’s some folding of cities on top of one another, but beyond that, Doctor Strange takes it to a whole other level. Though a more traditional (but no less impressive) set piece, that car crash sequence alone is perhaps worth the price of admission. Not to mention the whole Dormammu fight, which is delightfully inventive.
It’s not just the grand scale visual stuff that makes this movie so visually compelling. There are all kinds of weird, wonderful things that Scott Derrickson does. Marvel lets him get weird with it and the movie is way better off for it. The Doctor Strange comics have always been, well, strange. It would have been a disservice to the character and the movie to not embrace the weirdness of it. I dare any MCU movie in the future to get more weird than the dimensional trip sequence that Stephen Strange goes on when he meets The Ancient One. I’m also still in awe of the fact that, not only did they actually bring the whole idea of the astral projection into the movie, but it totally works and makes for an undeniably awesome fight sequence in the hospital. This is what happens when filmmakers are allowed to take risks.
While Doctor Strange doesn’t adapt any single comic book storyline, as most MCU movies don’t, it is incredibly faithful to the spirit of the character and the comics. This movie has a very comics-faithful origin story that helps make the audience embrace Stephen Strange as a character. Sure, there are broad similarities to Iron Man‘s origin, but they are ultimately very different characters with very different paths.The first act of this movie, to a guy who loves the character, feels like pure fan service, even though there aren’t a ton of hardcore fans of Strange out there. This movie feels like it was made with a lot of love and reverence.
The fact that all of these magical artifacts, like the Cloak of Levitation, are used in the movie and somehow don’t come off as totally off-putting and too bizarre for the average viewer is miraculous. Granted, they pretty much turned the Cloak of Levitation into the carpet from Aladdin for the purposes of comedic relief, but still. There’s also the ever-important Eye of Agamotto, which we now know to be one of the Infinity Stones that Thanos is going to be trying to get his big purple hands on come time for Avengers: Infinity War.
Like most of the major MCU roles, casting was crucial with this one and the fact that they got Benedict Cumberbatch, arguably one of the best actors working in Hollywood right now, to play a truly outlandish superhero is pretty, dare I say magical? Cumberbatch sells it from the very beginning as Stephen Strange, the neurosurgeon, and brilliantly transforms before our eyes into the bold, wise and powerful Sorcerer Supreme. It’s hard to picture anyone else taking on the part already. Also, would anyone else watch a prequel medical drama TV series following Stephen Strange’s years as a surgeon? Just me?
One thing that those who do love the Doctor Strange comics have had to wrestle with is certain character choices that are at best culturally insensitive. Specifically, the character of Wong, who is Strange’s manservant in the comics, is terribly outdated and was never really ok in the first place. But this movie manages to make the character powerful, fun and not a horrendous cultural stereotype. On the flipside, there’s the whole problem with The Ancient One. The fact that an Asian actor wasn’t given the role was controversial for many. However, a powerful, meaty role intended for a man was given to a woman and women need more roles like this. And, not for nothing, but Tilda Swinton absolutely crushes it. Plus, she has, for my money, the saddest death in the MCU to date.
Yes, this movie does have the usual not-so-great villain issue with Kaecilius, but they’re playing the long game here and setting up Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo as something far better for the future.That aside, I think this is a movie that surprised a lot of people for a lot of reasons. A director, primarily known for his work in the horror genre, took an obscure, bizarre character from the world of Marvel Comics and made a movie about sorcerers living in the real world that totally and completely works. Doctor Strange is one of Marvel Studios most surprising accomplishments to date. That’s hard not to acknowledge, even if not everyone has the same level of personal attachment to the material. Marvel, if they hadn’t proved it already, really proved that they can do just about anything with this one.