By: Jim Scroggs
November 10, 2016
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has shown us the power of a hammer, the ingenuity of a brilliant but anxiety riddled billionaire philanthropist and even the simplicity of a teenager trying to make it from day to day in Queens, New York but the one thing that we haven’t seen yet is how truly vast this universe truly is. We certainly have seen other realms in the travels of Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy but those alone don’t compare to the power of what a multiverse can hold and Doctor Strange has shown the entire world that anything is possible in the MCU.
What I Liked:
Benedict Cumberbatch already had my attention when he was cast in this role. His acting resume alone should have gotten plenty of people excited but our introduction to him is as Doctor Stephen Strange, in an ER room performing surgery unsurprisingly, shows a little bit of the arrogance that the character is known for and I’m glad that director Scott Derrickson hit on that at the beginning. The way he tapped into his frustration for losing the use of his hands in an almost vengeful way was also well done and how he progressed into his new role by the use of his most powerful tool, his mind. He claims to have a photographic memory so in a world of genius’s like Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and to an extent, Peter Parker, Stephen Strange could go toe to toe with any of them on a intellectual level. It’s clear that in this universe that there are certain actors born to play these roles and even after his first go as Doctor Strange, I can’t see anyone else stepping into that cloak.
Tilda Swinton's portrayal of The Ancient One was an interesting one when announced but I was on board with it then and I don’t regret my vote in confidence now. She’s an amazing actress in general but to play such a peaceful, zen and still quite dangerous character, she really showed that maybe some gender swapped roles could be a thing of beauty. In an era where we’ve seen powerful and strong women characters in the MCU like Peggy Carter, Black Widow and Scarlet Witch, I’m glad to see another make her mark on the MCU.
Baron Mordo is a bit of an interesting character because in the books, He’s started out as an ally to Stephen but eventually became an enemy over time. In this film, Mordo helps Stephen find Kamar-Taj, the location of The Ancient One in Nepal, and helps him train to find his way in these new surroundings. Later on, Mordo finds out that The Ancient One isn’t exactly what he thought and that sends him down a dark path but the breaking point was during a fight in the 3rd act in Hong Kong. When Strange breaks a rule, Mordo gets fed up with how things have been swept under the rug and goes off on his own to do things how he thinks they should be done. I think Chiwetel Ejiofor did a good job in this role but if I had to nitpick, I would like to have seen more of what he was like before he got to Kamar-Taj. Overall, I think he will be a sound foe for Stephen to face in the future.
Mads Mikkelsen's character, Kaecilius, who is a former student of The Ancient One, is already pretty busy as the film starts. His zealots help him find out the darkest secret of The Ancient One and in fact, he kills the librarian of Kamar Taj to get this secret. It’s revealed at the end of the film that The Ancient One’s secret to long life is from pulling energy from the Dark Dimension and it’s overseer, Dormammu, who is Doctor Strange’s arch enemy in the books. Dormammu can be summoned to earth if three of the Sanctum Sanctorum, which are in New York, London and Hong Kong, are destroyed on Earth. Marvel’s villains have not been the strongest and I know that’s been discussed at length but Mads seems to be the first in a while that is really intriguing. He’s really good at making his case for eternal life, absolute power and It’s got a bit of a spiritual aspect, which makes sense for this film. He’s not Loki good but there is some potential. There’s a tiny battle between Dormammu and Strange when the Doctor fools Dormammu into a time loop. The moment of Strange dying over and over again for eternity is used to stall Dormammu instead of harming earth which leads to striking a deal between the two. When he was “destroyed” by Strange at the Hong Kong fight, Kaecilius floats away into the dark dimension so I think we could see him again in later films.
Doctor Christine Palmer, played by Rachel McAdams, is the closest person to Stephen during his time as neurosurgeon and I think she gave a good performance at calling him on things when nobody else would, being by his side and helping him when he needed it most. If I had to nitpick, I wish there was a little more development in her character and I’d like to see more of her in action considering it seemed like she and Stephen were close intellectually as well but I hope they explore more of her in movies to come.
Wong, which is played by Benedict Wong, was a character that, along with The Ancient One, was updated for the MCU. In the comics, Wong is a, for lack of a better term, man servant to Stephen and I can see how that role wouldn’t be appealing now to an actor. Instead, this portrayal of Wong is a by the book drill sergeant type and trying to keep Strange in line during his training in Kamar-Taj. He’s a fighter and the relationship between him and Strange comes together at the end of the film when he reveals to Stephen that the Eye of Agamotto is indeed an Infinity Stone. I wish I had seen more of Wong and how he came into Kamar Taj but it looks like we could get more of him in the future which is exciting.
The Visuals of this film were some of the most incredible things I’ve seen and this is the definition of lifting source material from the pages of a comic book to the big screen. The art from Steve Ditko came to life in so many ways, especially in 3D. Most people probably would guess “Oh, this is like Inception so I know what to expect” The only similarity of this and Inception is the folding cities and the spinning rooms. Everything else is a complete mind bend. Buildings bend and split in half, Floors become elongated, the streets of New York become upside down and right side up at the same time, Stephen falls into his own eye and hangs inside the pupil like a ledge, and the craziest one of all, tiny hands come out of Stephens finger tips and they keep multiplying over and over. The smallest of details including how amazing Strange looked while floating in the Cloak of Levitation adds so much more to what Doctor Strange fans love about the character. I saw this twice in both 2D as well as 3D and it was worth every second to get the full experience of such an amazing trip.
The Mid and Post Credit Scenes have become a staple with Marvel Studios and these certainly didn’t disappoint. It opens with Thor’s voice stating the earth has wizards now. He’s sitting with Strange and they are discussing over tea, which turns to refillable beer because come on, he’s a sorcerer and he can do that. Stephen mentions that he’s got a list of threats and surprise, Loki is on that list. Thor asks if Strange can help find Odin and in return, Thor, Loki and Odin will see themselves back to Asgard. Strange agrees and it looks like we’ll see those two characters next November in Thor: Ragnarok. The post credit scene opens in a metal shop where the man that told Strange about Kamar Taj is working. He was paralyzed from the chest down and went to The Ancient One to walk again. Mordo comes to see him and after a brief discussion, the man attacks Mordo and Mordo takes the power that helps him walk. Mordo says there are too many sorcerers in the world and he has to eliminate them. This all but sets up one of the villains in the next installment of the Doctor Strange franchise
Not So Much
I felt like some of the humor was a little forced. Two jokes that come to mind is when Strange meets Wong. Strange asks his name and Wong simply responds with Wong. That lead to an overstayed joke about celebrities with one name like Drake, Bono, Aristotle, Adele and Eminem. It went about 5 seconds too long in my opinion and the same goes for the Cloak of Levitation. While the cloak chose Strange during an earlier battle with Caecilius and certainly lead to some amazing effects, it had a lot of personality, which I wasn’t aware of. It kind of acted like a magic carpet at times and some of the bits were kind of slapstick-y.
I said a few months back that this film was the perfect entry to come off the high of Captain America: Civil War. In a year of so many movies involving infighting, audiences needed to see a film that could stand alone in a universe, not have too much hype going into it and most of all, be different. Personally, I loved Civil War more than any other film in the MCU because of the addition of Spider-Man and how that movie handled everything that was going on but I think Doctor Strange is up there as an origin story and I would put it in my top 7. This film shows that Marvel Studios is capable of scaling back and still delivering a good story with amazing visuals that isn’t a typical comic book film. An entire new world has opened up so sit back and enjoy this long, strange trip that you won’t regret.
Marvel Studios Doctor Strange is in theaters now.