Review: 'Doctor Strange' is a Distinctive, Spectacular Marvel Origin Film
by Alex Billington
October 31, 2016
Can Marvel still make an origin story exciting? Yes. As formulaic as Marvel Studios movies have become, they can still deliver thoroughly exciting big screen entertainment. Doctor Strange is the latest in their line-up that proves with the right formula (in this case, a good thing) of talent behind and on the screen, they can pull off another vibrant introduction. I'm admittedly not that familiar with Doctor Strange - I never read any of his comics and only know what I've learned writing about the movie leading up to the release. After seeing the movie, I'm now a big fan. It's the story of an arrogant, egotistical doctor who has to see the world differently, figuring out how he can still contribute to the greater good even though he can no longer heal people with his hands. Beyond that, the visuals are spectacular and it's worth seeing for them alone.
Doctor Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange, an egotistical rich guy who learns over the course of 115 minutes that there are many "multiverses" (not just one universe) and that there is a secret group of "magical" people who defend Earth from mystical threats. When he texts-and-drives one night, he ends up in a violent car crash that leaves his hands completely destroyed without much hope for recovery. His hands were his more important tool for performing brain surgery, but now he is ruined, with nothing to offer. Until he travels to Kathmandu in Nepal and works his way into the compound where people train to be sorcerers. He is taught by "The Ancient One", played ever-so-delightfully by Tilda Swinton, who also does her best to work the cockiness out of him and instill humility and real sense of appreciation instead. Through work and determination he becomes increasingly powerful and learns how to control time itself.
The movie boasts a good amount of clever aspects, many in the screenplay written by Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, but also visual tricks and trippy action scenes envisioned by director Scott Derrickson. I've never seen action like this before, and I mean it. While comparisons to Inception are obvious, with cities bending and folding into themselves, this goes way beyond that. The colors, and the 2001-Star-Gate-sequence-inspired trippy multiverse scenes; the upside-down, fight-on-the-wall, jump-to-this-dimension action; the way the mystical powers they use enhance everything even further, it all left me astounded by how awesome it was to watch on the big screen. I don't even know how they pulled it off, nor do I care, I was so caught up in what I was watching that I didn't even need to think about what filmmaking trickery they were using. The 3D also improved the visuals, and it's rare I ever say positive things about 3D.
While Doctor Strange does suffer from a few of the typical Marvel cliches, including a mediocre but better-than-average villain, the rest of it works so well and feels so fresh and exciting that it's easy to look past some of these minor issues and just enjoy this vivid superhero spectacle. This is up there with the very first Captain America and Iron Man in terms of being an excellent Marvel Studios origin story, establishing a character that I actively want to follow in future movies and sequels and more stories. Not to mention that I now want to read the comics, at the very least to see what is different about the character and what they might've left out. Rachel McAdams appearance as Christine Palmer felt underwritten and slightly lacking, but not in a distracting way. I loved Tilda Swinton's bald version of "The Ancient One", she's just amazing, and I enjoyed seeing her intriguing story play out alongside of Doctor Strange's progression/development.
Doing my best not to spoil the scene, I was most impressed by the final act and the big climatic moment where Doctor Strange must figure out how to defeat some big, bad ultimate evil. Instead of relying on brute force or destruction or violence, he relies on his wit and intelligence and desire to help, not hurt, to win the day. And it was also refreshing to see Derrickson use a sci-fi genre trope in a unique way, which is the most I can say until everyone else sees the movie. This is one of those fantastic moments that has much greater implications than just being a plot twist to progress the story in a superhero movie. It's the kind of inspiring writing that should set an example for people to follow when it comes to solving problems. It's the kind of moment that should make us all realize that intelligence, instead of violence, can actually be the solution.
At the end of it all, what Marvel's Doctor Strange is really about and what it should leave viewers thinking about is one of the key lines from the movie: "Who are you in this vast multiverse?" Not only is it visually spectacular, exciting superhero entertainment, it's also an intelligent and distinctive film. It left me thinking more about myself and what I'm doing and how I am providing a greater good, and how I can change as a person and what else I can learn from Stephen Strange. I wanted to hug my friends as soon as it was over. Everyone's experience with this movie will be different, and some may not connect with Strange's story as deeply as I did. (It may have helped that I also traveled to Nepal and Kathmandu earlier this year, too.) But one thing is for sure - we can all be blown away by how totally stunning this vibrant, visual extravaganza is.
Alex's Rating: 9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing