The second film in Marvel’s third phase of movies doesn’t care that Captain America and Iron Man are having a lovers’ spat, nor does it care that Hydra took down the world’s largest counter-intelligence force. What Doctor Strange cares about is the personal journey of one man as he attempts to cure himself after a terrible accident, who ends up saving the world after having the responsibility thrust upon him. It’s a similar formula that we’ve seen from Marvel in films like Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, but this new iteration takes our protagonist to places not yet seen.
Needless to say, this review contains spoilers for Doctor Strange, so, fair warning.
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a genius neurosurgeon who squanders his talents for personal gain. Whether it be through his reputation or his wallet, every patient he takes he does so to better himself. When an accident, caused by his own hubris of course, renders his hands scarred and trembling, he cannot continue to perform the work that he had built his life upon. After wasting his fortune on useless surgeries, Strange travels to Kathmandu, Nepal in search of a cure and becomes the student of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a sorcerer who is as powerful as she is old. Strange is a fast learner, particularly talented with time magic and aided by the mystical artifact, the Eye of Agamotto. When former master Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) begins to attack mystical strongholds across the globe in service to a multidimensional entity named Dormammu, Strange and Master Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) work to keep the Earth from Dormammu’s grasp.
Doctor Strange excels at turning the mundane into the psychedelic. Whenever a character enters the Mirror Dimension, a reality parallel to ours where events there do not affect the real world, kaleidoscopic visuals overtake the screen, twisting the familiar structure of our world into an overwhelming experience of wrongness. Most combat takes place in this parallel reality, turning relatively personal fight sequences into expansive chase scenes across buildings that expand and collapse in on themselves. It is truly hard to describe much of the visuals in Doctor Strange, as it should be. Part of the majesty in Doctor Strange is the inability to describe the events that occur to Strange.
Similarly, Doctor Strange’s interlacing plot elements work on multiple levels. Kaecilius’ own story is dangerously close to Strange’s, and while Kaecilius does not have the best character development, Mikkelsen forges a believable villain. Mordo is a character who sees almost as much change in himself as Strange, with his convictions shaken to the core several times over the course of the film as he witnesses the repercussions of wielding power. Strange and The Ancient One weave a tangled plot of life and power and the lengths people with go to for both. A common theme within the film is that of rules and breaking them.
Perhaps the weakest aspect of Doctor Strange is, ironically, its sense of time. How much time Strange spends in training in Kathmandu is nebulous at best. A throwaway scene depicts Strange studying while he sleeps via astral projection, but how much time is spent under the tutelage of The Ancient One and Mordo is never explained. This occurs again once Strange confronts the shadowy bait-and-switch boss Dormammu. Strange subjects himself to a time loop, trapping both him and the multidimensional entity for all eternity, or at least until Dormammu agrees to leave Earth out of its schemes. Surely the film could have depicted this eternity, instead opting for maybe twenty or so loops. While ultimately a minor complaint, it seems to be a missed opportunity for an incredibly intriguing concept.
Doctor Strange is unique to the Marvel cinematic universe in that it depicts a fundamentally different tale of character progression. Strange’s character is one we’ve seen before but overcomes his personal defects in a way that is unique to his story, and is one of the few where we see real character growth. This addition to the cinematic universe is a welcome change of pace to the large and drawn out conflicts of its peers and makes for a charming adventure.
- Fascinating visuals
- Compelling villains
- An amazing mid-credit scene
- Somewhat confusing sense of time
- Final boss bait-and-switch