The Master of the Mystic Arts, Dr. Steven Strange, has finally made his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular doctor has a wonderfully original take on its use and display of magic, while the film surrounding it is unfortunately less so.
Dr. Strange is about a self-absorbed, arrogant man whom is broken down to the lowest he has ever been, forced to build himself back up with magic in order to combat a great evil. If you swap out magic and replace it with technology, this film plays much like 2008’s Iron Man, the film that started the whole MCU. While the origin of the good doctor is very similar to that of Iron Man, there are other moments in the movie that could seem like it borrows from such films like Batman Begins or Inception.
While Dr. Strange does share some movie origin similarities to Iron Man, you have to remember that Strange was created back in the 60’s, when comics were not mainstream in any real way. If your hero needed some sort of origin tale, it was pretty common for them to share their origin with another popular character, tweaking it just slightly.
The film begins with Strange surviving a car crash, his surgeon hands, famous ones, crippled. He spends money he has, then money he doesn’t, trying to heal them, to no avail. He then travels to Kathmandu to seek out help he has heard whispers of, a mystical healer whom made a paralyzed man walk again, let alone run and play sports. It is where he meets the cast of characters he will share this adventure, and his future, with.
He seeks healing from the Ancient One, played masterfully by Tilda Swinton. The Ancient One in the comic books is a very played out stereotype; the wise old man. Now, while there is nothing wrong with that aspect of what the character is, it is the who and where-from that made Marvel change this character for film. The Ancient One is an old man from Tibet, the problem with that is China is currently banning anything or anyone that has any ties to Tibet from entering the country, and considering China is usually responsible for a third of the international box office, altering the character for the sake of a huge pay day, was a smart choice, despite the controversy. Now while Marvel denies any of this, this information was quoted from the co-writer of the film, so take that as you will. Regardless, Tilda Swinton is amazing here. Her character has a bit of amusing confidence, and comes off as a bit of mystery to both the viewer and to Dr. Strange himself.
Chiwetel Eijofor, as Mordo, is a very important character from the comics. Fans will know of the future in store for this character, but we get a bit of an origin story for him here as well, and Eijofor makes you believe all of it. Chiwetel Eijofor, don’t ask me to pronounce that, is a truly gifted actor and his talents are not wasted here. He plays Mordo as a confident man who is bound by rules and tries to instill them on Dr. Strange. He plays not only the teacher to Steven Strange, but to us as well, explaining the in’s and out’s of this world and its rules. My favorite moments with Mordo is when he is sharing the screen with Strange, and thankfully, that is quite often.
Back when the movie was first being talked about, Joaquin Phoenix was originally optioned for the role, being the top name attached to play the good doctor. It was when he passed on the role that fans started to really get behind Benedict Cumberbatch for the part. His take on Sherlock Holmes catapulted him to international stardom. His role in The Imitation Game set him up as one of my favorite actors of all time, so when he was officially cast as Dr. Strange, both I and the world were overjoyed. Benedict Cumberbatch has a presence on film unlike many others, a weighted gravitas to his on-screen performance. Dr. Strange required that he be arrogant, vulnerable and comical, of which Cumberbatch pulls off perfectly. The role in Dr. Strange needed to be given to an actor that could hold his own when interacting with an actor like Robert Downey Jr, when the characters would collide in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, and Benedict has that down. I can just think of all the Sherlock meets Sherlock jokes or memes that will be present during the release of that film.
There is also Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, a former love interest and medical colleague of Dr. Strange. I rather liked her in the movie and was glad that she wasn’t some toss away character. She has some rather great moments here and one of which is during her reunion with the more mystical Steven Strange, is one of my favorites of the film. If you read “The Oath” which was a 2007 comic book limited series written by Brian K. Vaughan, then you’ll be treated to a few moments from that series here.
There is also Wong, played by Benedict Wong, whom in the comics was a servant to Dr. Strange. They went a completely different route with this character and the movie is better for it. While he doesn’t get a lot of screen time, he makes the most of what he has and delivers a very memorable character in Wong.
Lastly, the villain. Marvel has made more than a dozen films now with only one solid villain, at least critically; Loki. Mads Mikkelsen plays Kaecilius, a former student of The Ancient One, a man bent on achieving a dark goal. His involvement in the movie sheds light on many mysterious truths and not only does he intently go after these, he inadvertently helps craft Steven Strange into a much more confident hero, and that is as good of a role for a villain as I can think of. He’s not perfect, no, but he is a better attempt at a villain than Marvel has been doing since Loki first appeared in the first Thor movie.
Visually, Dr. Strange is a movie you really need to see in theaters as the 3D for all the effects is just amazing. The type of magic on-screen is completely original and this style of visuals for it has never been seen like this before. The way I find to best describe it is if the character were using a powered saw to cut into the air, with colorful sparks flying all around them. While the use of magic didn’t impress me as much as this years Warcraft movie, it still comes off as one of the most original takes on magic seen on film, and finally introduces real magic to the MCU.
The other effects are like those found in a kaleidoscope, twisting and turning to change the image and colors. There are also moments when Dr. Strange would enter the mirror-realm, with the air around him fracturing into what seems like broken glass all around him. These are known as pocket universes, or as comic book fans call it; the multiverse. To sum it up, the multiverse is a theoretical science which states that our known universe exists alongside a potentially infinite number of alternate ones. In 1952, Nobel Prize winning physicist Erwin Schrödinger gave a lecture in which he talked about different moments in history that were “not alternatives, but all [which] really happen simultaneously,” this would be the first discussion about the prospect of the multiverse. In 1962, DC comics would introduce the multiverse to comics in Flash #123 in which Flash teams up with another version of himself, from a parallel Earth. That being said, the mirror realm has some very interesting uses here and I am sure it is not the last we see of it.
Much like The Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange comes off as being isolated from the rest of the MCU films. Sure, there are a few nods here and there in regard to the other films, but the film doesn’t seem like it is setting up future films like Iron Man 2 was during the lead up to the first Avengers film. The most we see of any connection to the MCU is Avengers tower and the reference to another Infinity Stone; however, there is one last connection to the other films that I’ll leave as a surprise to discover on your own, just make sure you stay after the movie ends.
Dr. Strange is a great film, there is no denying that. While much of the film feels lifted or inspired from other films, it still comes together as a solid experience starring a phenomenal cast of actors who each have a moment or two to shine. Magic has finally come to the Marvel Cinematic Universe under the control of the future Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Steven Strange.