I went into Doctor Strange cautiously optimistic, but like a few other people, I do keep, in the back of my mind, a clock that ticks down to when Marvel’s run of hits will end. I hope it never does, but that’s just not realistic, so I’m enjoying the run while it’s going. The first thing I can say about Doctor Strange is that this is not the movie that ends Marvel’s string of successes. It’s not one of the better films in the MCU, but it’s solidly “good.”
The big thing I’ll hit the movie for is its lack of rules for the world of inter-dimensional magic. Without having any clearly stated limitations on what can be done, or how, it’s hard to gauge what represents a threat, and the main story in the movie felt flat for that reason. What’s the threat in this movie? Why, magic is, of course. What’s the answer to the threat? Why, magic is, of course. In the end, Strange wins the big battle with the aid of a conveniently placed item, the full power and/or limitations of which the film never explains. That makes for an ending that doesn’t really satisfy.
A much smaller gripe came in the form of Strange’s life in the mundane world. We needed to spend time there to get a full sense of who Strange was before he became a sorcerer, so the film’s first act wasn’t wasted. My problem came from being dragged back there later. It slowed the move down, and on a smaller level, annoyed me because in a world where the Avengers have existed for some time, people should be more numb to seeing weird things in big cities.
The movie offers you everything you expect from Marvel at this point. There were some good, genuine laughs, and its true enough to the source material that fans of the comics should recognize key points. The visual effects were right out of the film Inception, so there’s nothing really groundbreaking, but they’re well executed.
Cumberbatch did well in the lead, because Cumberbatch usually does, but I was more interested in Chiwetel Ejiofor’s depiction of Mordo. Ejiofor is a terrific actor, and you’ll want to stick around for the second post-credits-scene to get a look at what will be next for his character. I won’t spoil anything, and those who are familiar with Mordo from the comics should see it coming, but I’d argue it gives Mordo a more interesting arc than Strange’s.
In the long term, I’m a little concerned that Strange’s role in the MCU will be to reset reality or reboot things when the time comes, and I’d hate to see the character reduced to that. There was a lot of multiverse talk in the film. In the short term, Doctor Strange was fun, and I’d put it about on the level of the Thor films in the MCU; definitely not the best movies, but not dull.
I agree with Jim that Doctor Strange is true enough to the source material on a surface level, but the film betrays one of the character’s co-creators Steve Ditko and what drives the character.
I’ll start with Ditko. Steve Ditko is also a co-creator of Spider-man and the one responsible for building Spidey’s guilt of his Uncle Ben’s death. He also changed the Hulk from a man who transforms into a monster at night to one driven by anger and controlled by his inner demons. Ditko even reworked Tony Stark’s backstory so he’d feel compelled to atone for his and his family’s war profiteering. Doctor Strange included Jack Kirby’s larger than life visuals and Stan Lee’s sense of humor, but Ditko’s complex character is absent.
Doctor Strange couldn’t—or shouldn’t—include Ditko’s (and Lee’s) origin of Strange operating on patients after his accident, killing them with shaky fingers, and fleeing malpractice suits, but there needed to be something tragic—or just something—that would motivate Strange to become a hero.
What we’re given is an arrogant man who’s good at the arcane arts because he’s good at studying, and he saves our existence because that’s where he keeps all his stuff. Yes, even the heroic act of facing off with Dormammu at the end is self-serving, and Strange would be okay with the “pain” because he gets to outsmart a god-like being. That’s a win-win, baby. The lack of a story element to tie Strange to this plane made the scenes where Strange returns to the real-world drag.
I agree with Jim’s assessment of magic. Magic’s fuzzy logic makes a lot of things unclear.
I don’t like white-washing. I especially don’t like white-washing of Asian roles. I’m part Indonesian and would like to see more Asians on screen, but I was willing to let The Ancient One thing slide if Doctor Strange gave a good reason why it chose Tilda Swinton to play the role. It didn’t.
Marvel, Robert Cargill (screenwriter), and Scott Derrickson (director) lose all creditability with their defense of not wanting to further stereotypes by casting a white woman in the role, when they still show us the stereotypical, comic book version of The Ancient One. What’s worse is that they don’t give him a speaking role and make fun of the fact that they showed us the stereotype (when Strange first enters Kamar-Taj). That’s not clever, Marvel, and you’re treating your audience like they’re stupid.
I don’t know what Marvel’s issue is with Asians in their cinematic universe but the only other major role an Asian could’ve played up to this point was The Mandarin, and he turned out to be a fraud, a punch-line, a joke.
I know it sounds like I hated Doctor Strange, but I enjoyed it. The actors did a good to great job with what they were given, and Ejiofor was fantastic. I didn’t know it was possible for an after credits scene to trump a movie without including the movie’s titular character, but it happened.
Doctor Strange is a fun ride; I’d place it above Thor: Dark World and Iron Man 3—for obvious Mandarin reasons—but below the first Thor. I’m sure I’ll watch it again in theaters. Thanks for reading.