Doctor Strange Review

Finally completing the run of MCU films on this blog (as I’ve covered all the other ones as they released already) is Doctor Strange. This was always in interesting one for me because I’ve always liked the character and had high hopes the MCU team would do him justice, and thankfully I was right. The film is really enjoyable and quite the visual spectacle… so let’s take a look!

Synopsis:

Dr. Stephen Strange’s life changes after a car accident robs him of the use of his hands. When traditional medicine fails him, he looks for healing, and hope, in a mysterious enclave. He quickly learns that the enclave is at the front line of a battle against unseen dark forces bent on destroying reality and before long Strange is forced to choose between his life of fortune and status or leave it all behind to defend the world as the most powerful sorcerer in existence.

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

I’m sure you’ve seen screenshots like this a thousand times, but damn some of these sequences were amazing!

As per usual for the MCU the casting is really on-point here, specifically Benedict Cumberbatch as Strange himself. Now while his American accent may dip in and out (and frankly not having Benedict’s natural accent saying phrases like “the Eye of Agamato” seems like a missed opportunity, even if you’d have to change his origin slightly) he is perfect in the role of arrogant bastard-turned-hero, with just the right amount of sarcasm. The rest of the cast is filled out well, with Mads Mikkelsen as the villain Kaecilius, Tilda Swinton of all people playing The Ancient One (and doing a great job, too), Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong as fellow sorcerers Karl Mordo and Wong, respectively, and Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, the standard love-interest.

The standout part of the film however has to be the special effects, which are full of crazy space bending, building rotating and floor sinking effects, plus a lot of great “crazy other-dimensional CG scenes”. It really blew me away while watching it the first time, especially the finale…

The overall plot is at its core another comic origin film with a lot of similarities to Iron Man (due to the two characters having very similar origins in the comics, admittedly…) Strange is one of the world’s best brain surgeons and knows it, arrogantly turning down pleas for help from common people based purely on whether it would be an amazing achievement and/or challenge for him to do it, then one day he has a car accident while looking at his phone (there’s a lesson there, folks!) and while he survives his hands are crushed to the point of heavy nerve damage. His career taken away from him he alienates himself away from his love interest and fellow surgeon Christine and spends all his money on potential cures and untested breakthrough techniques. Eventually he hears of a paralyzed man who went to an off-the-map monastery and came back with the ability to walk and follows his advice, heading off to the same place.

The Ancient One draws Strange a birthday card. Awww.

He soon meets The Ancient One and learns of the existence of other-dimensional energies that can be wielded by what are by all accounts “spells” and generally the existence of other universes in the multi-verse. Strange joins and becomes a quick study, impressing other members of the order, eventually using the “Eye of Agamato”, which is a forbidden artefact, and finds out the Ancient One uses the power of Dormammu to prolong her life, the same power the fallen mage Kaecilius is being hunted down for using. Before long Strange ends up in a crazy battle with Kaecilius and his men that includes a sentient cape, portals to other parts of Earth, an astral plane battle while Christine tries to revive Strange’s actual body, and eventually the “Mirror dimension”, where Strange and fellow mage Mordo end up encountering some pretty crazy world-bending stuff. They’re saved by The Ancient One, but at the cost of her life.

Strange, Mordo and Wong eventually team up and fight Kaecilius in Hong Kong in a battle that takes place while time is rewinding around them in another great spectacle. Despite their best efforts Dormammu arrives and begins to devour the Earth, but Strange uses a time loop to trap himself and the other-dimensional being until he agrees to leave this dimension alone, and to take his devoted “followers” with him. With the world safe Doctor Strange settles into the New York building of the sect and even talks to Thor in a mid-credits scene. In a post credits scene we see Mordo has become disillusioned with the order after hearing of the Ancient One’s use of forbidden magic, so he begins to take matters into his own hands and steals the magic that was keeping the disabled man able again… what a complete bastard.

The Bad:

Did he seriously not look in a mirror at his new eyes and go “Hmm… Maybe Dormammu is evil after all…”

Honestly, not a lot. It does suffer from what a lot of origin films suffer from and that’s a villain that isn’t as well developed. We get that Kaecilius wants eternal life via Dormammu’s timeless dimension and … that’s about it. He does his job and I always have time for Mads Mikkelsen, but it does have to be said that in having to establish Strange, the sorcerers and the concept of magic and other dimensions in the same film, the villain got the short straw. Same goes for Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, who never gets out of “female love interest” as her character’s reason for being in the film…

Overall Thoughts:

It’s Doctor Strange! He may or may not be here to bargain.

Doctor Strange nails the mix of magic and trippy visuals that made the comics (and indeed animated 90s versions of the character I loved) so appealing, while also neatly tying it in to the MCU as a whole surprisingly well. Some stunning visual effects and well-choreographed fight scenes add to the fun, and the cast is all served well, though Mads Mikkelsen’s villain is somewhat undercooked. Overall a really strong entry to the MCU’s overall whole.

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