Movie Review: Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange is a decent addition to MCU thanks to great performances, beautiful design and mind-bending visual effects, even though it’s attached to a formulaic origins story.

After a tragic car accident, talented neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) must put ego aside and learn the secrets of a hidden world of mysticism and alternate dimensions. Based in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Doctor Strange must act as an intermediary between the real world and what lies beyond, utilizing a vast array of metaphysical abilities and artifacts to protect the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

As part of its effort to add variety in its line-up and make more money, MCU is introducing second tier characters. The gamble with Guardian’s of the Galaxy paid off, so now we have Doctor Strange.

Marvel also has always been good at casting – although Finn Jones is a classic bland casting choice as Iron Fist – so its no surprise that Benedict Cumberbatch fits like a glove in his character. He sheds the British accent and adds more attitude, portraying an arrogant and overcompensating neurosurgeon that you’d love to get taken down a notch or two.

And so he does, more then two actually. A car accident sends him crashing down the side of a cliff while on his way to a soiree. His origins story has a little more substance, where a man whose self-worth is tied to his job loses the one thing he needed the most to perform it. Not since Winter Soldier and Civil War did we get Marvel treating its superheroes as individuals instead of just properties.

In fairness, Doctor Strange has more room to play around Marvel’s blockbuster formula and thankfully the creators behind the camera made the best out of that opportunity. The director is able to do more than just destroy buildings and set the right orchestral score.

The mystical arts is rendered beautifully, resulting to spells modeled after floating embers that create gateways and shields. It’s multi-dimensional rules lead to inventive action scenes such as folding buildings that would have blown Ariadne’s mind, trippy time bending action sequences, and an MCU-subverting showdown. Strange’s handicap led to novel action scenes that relied on his intelligence to fend off more capable henchmen. His spiritual journey veered away from that hate/love team dynamic and tapped on the grey area of using powers for practicality instead of idealism.

Much has been said about Tilda Swinton as Strange’s mentor whose literally named as the Ancient One. Yes it would have been nice if Marvel hired a Tibetan for the role (personally I’d rather not have another stereotypical magical East Asian). However it can also be said that Swinton is a natural. The rest of the diverse cast also did well, with Chiwetel Ejiofor making a memorable character with Mordo. Stay until the final credits to find out more about him.

While Doctor Strange injects new life to the homogeneous Marvel line-up – which is ironic considering he’s a second tier character – he’s attached to a formulaic origins story. You won’t get to know more about Stephen Strange apart from the fact that he’s cut from the same cloth as Tony Stark. The gifted yet egoistic student appears, breaking all the rules and questioning his masters until one cataclysmic event teaches him a lesson about humility.

It’s unclear what his motivations are to save humanity but the world needs saving so there he goes. Sadly the movie still comes with Marvel’s weaknesses – Kaecilius is as underwritten as Malekith, his love interest is an afterthought, and stealthy gender bias: the most compelling female character has to be androgynous.

Still, Doctor Strange is an entertaining entry with a sense of humor that is enjoyable for both fans and non-fans alike. Marvel excels in combining comic book lore with Hollywood fanfare and this time like Doctor Strange, successfully presents new possibilities out of the familiar.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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