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Doctor Strange: Forget Everything You Think You Know About the MCU

written by Jason Marcano November 4, 2016

The following review contains MINOR SPOILERS!

Marvel’s Doctor Strange is unlike anything they’ve ever brought out. It’s got shades of Batman, Ironman, and Inception. Yet, Doctor Strange manages to find its own identity, and it’s an identity that nestles snugly in the ongoing MCU. In a nutshell, Doctor Strange is a mind bending trip to the mystical side of superheroism. It’s a ride that never lets up, and despite a brief dip in act 3, ends up being one of Marvel‘s best origin films since debuting Ironman.

The Origin of Strange

The movie opens in a deceptively similar way all superhero origin stories go. A person, in this case Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange, is a man who has it all. He is a rich and talented neurosurgeon, he drives fast cars, and he’s a hit with all the ladies. He’s also cocky, and it is this cockiness that almost destroys him. After a near-fatal wreck, Stephen suffers irreparable nerve damage in his hands. His days as a surgeon are over.

After draining his bank account in a search for a doctor who can restore the use of his hands, Stephen becomes desperate. He finds a man who has recovered from an apparently inoperable back injury. You’ve seen this man if you’ve seen the leaked end credits scenes. Through this man, Strange is lead to a place in the Himalayas where he meets The Ancient One.

Played with a sharp mysticism and power by Tilda Swinton, The Ancient One teaches Strange of the multi-verse and magic. After a trip through the multi-verse, one that has to be seen in 3D, the stubborn Doctor relents. Believing that if he learns to harness this power he will be able to heal his hands and go back to being a surgeon, Stephen agrees to be taught.

Throughout his growth to becoming the titular Doctor Strange there is a metric ton of exposition. Therein lies the one thing that stands out the most in Doctor Strange.

Forget Everything You Know

Doctor Strange is, most notably, different. So much so it can be hard for one to wrap their heads around at times. Some people may even be turned off by it all together. This stark contrast between it and other movies in the MCU is both a good and bad thing.

I would venture that Doctor Strange’s overall weirdness is its strongest aspect. Magic is nothing like super strength, telekinesis, or super healing. Magic is something, as the movie posits, anyone can do. Yes, you or I could learn to tap into the powers of other dimensions and manipulate the very fabrics of reality. I think this will resonate the most with viewers as it did with me. The idea that any man or woman is capable of finding this power within them and making a difference. Granted, Stephen has the benefit of having a photographic memory and is able to pick it up at record pace, but it isn’t out of reach.

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Marvel dipping into the realm of sorcery and mysticism is also one of the reasons this movie feels like a documentary at times. While never becoming an uninteresting slog – the effects and visuals were beautiful and engaging – midway through the movie, the story came to a brief halt. Doctor Strange would just be standing there, listening to one of the characters who knew more than him go on about history and the way things worked. It borders on overwhelming at times, and as I said, some may find it as a turn off.

Strange Magic

Did I mention this movie had magic in it? ‘Cause it does, it’s full of it. At points there were more spells flying across the screen then even the most intense scenes in Harry Potter. But the spell casting doesn’t stop at mere orbs of light and glowing ropes of energy. The sorcerers in Doctor Strange can enter a mirror dimension, a place that exist right next to our own. In this dimension reality itself can be bent. It is here the Inception comparisons become unavoidable. However, I must note that the world of Doctor Strange existed long before Inception.

With all the special effects inherent in a film like this I went in thinking that the movie would appear too fake. That eventually immersion would break, and I’d realize that Kaecilius and Strange were on a green stage somewhere. Thankfully, that was never the case. At no point did the effects get in the way of the movie and characters on screen. If anything the CGI in this movie was very realistic and only served to further immerse me into the world Marvel and director Scott Derrickson created.

The Cast

Doctor Strange ends up saving itself from being a typical superhero origin story with its unique hero played wonderfully by Benedict Cumberbatch. He’s just the perfect amount of cocky and stubborn. The brief glimpses of him letting his guard down often end in hilarious exchanges or other entertaining outcomes. Cumberbatch does an excellent job of portraying Stephen Strange as a man at war with his own ego and the cowardice that ultimately comes with one as large as his. He does not start off as the ideal hero, even when he’s pulling bullets out of brain dead patients.

Cumberbatch and Swinton’s Ancient One have a great dynamic, as she comes off appropriately wise and powerful. Her fight scenes end up being some of the best in the film and she proves a force to be reckoned with. It’s clear she’s not being open with everyone around her however, but her reasons to do so end up being justified. She has not let her immense power corrupt her.

The same can’t be said for Mad Mikkelsen’s under utilized Kaecilius. Perhaps yet another problem that can be traced back to the overabundant exposition, Kaecilius is rarely seen in this film. While menacing enough when he is on screen, Mikkelsen gets little time to do much of anything other than wave his hands around. There is a good fight between him and a green about the gills Strange about half way through the movie that really gives him a chance to shine. Mostly though, Kaecilius remains a threat talked about and not seen.

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Finally we have Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, a character we will be seeing much more of when Doctor Strange returns. Ejiofor and Cumberbatch spend a lot of time together and their dynamic is great. However Strange and Mordo stand on two staunchly differing grounds when it comes to getting things done. Mordo believes that the laws of nature must be followed. He sees a natural order to things, and magic as a way to preserve that. When the Doctor shows Mordo how far he is willing to go by bending the very fabric of time and space, Mordo distances himself. Eventually, after the big bad is done for, Mordo leaves the group.

The Bottom Line

Doctor Strange is up there with the best of the MCU. It’s unique, and that alone is refreshing. It presents you with a world that you’ve never seen before and makes it easy to dive right in. The special effects, while plentiful, are never laughable or distracting. The story is wonderfully written. It’s the perfect blend of funny and serious—a feat Marvel has mastered at this point. The stellar cast holds up and honestly invest in a movie that could have easily been a disaster. Thankfully, because of films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel knows taking a risk in an obscure property can work.

Introducing the world of Doctor Strange into the MCU is more than just about magic. Marvel has now put the idea of a multi-verse in our heads. If you read the comics, you know what kind of chaos and fun multi-verses can be.

Geeks, if you’re a fan of Marvel, the MCU, or just want to see something a little different in your superhero movie, Doctor Strange is a must see. I can’t recommend it enough, and if you want a score: 8/10.

Let us know what you thought of Doctor Strange in the comments below. Was this another success from Marvel? Was it too different? We want to know your thoughts geeks!


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