Doctor Strange is definitely Marvel’s “weirdest” film to date—though considering we’ve already seen two Thor films and Guardians of the Galaxy, it shouldn’t be that weird. What I mean, though, is that it’s less sci-fi and more mystical (which obviously means we’re getting closer to the Phase III Infinity Wars against Thanos). The previous stories we’ve seen have been about superheroes who acquired their power more or less by science (with the exception of Thor). Doctor Strange, however, channels mystical dimensional energy for his power. So he’s kind of like Neo, but if Neo were a wizard.
The good thing about going weird is that Marvel is able to take some risks. Rather than having a regular setting like New York City and relying on the characters to be the unbelievable factors in the equation, Doctor Strange flips its setting upside down and sideways, pulling us through time loops and other dimensions. It’s almost like being in an M.C. Escher painting that’s in a kaleidoscope.
Don’t misunderstand me. It still feels like your typical Marvel movie. All of the trademark franchise elements are there. The comic book easter eggs, the cinematic universe tie-ins, the lackluster villain, the humor weaved into a dramatic moment with excellent precision and execution. But it looks different for once. The special effects blow all of the other films out of the water (including Guardians) simply because the setting and the characters’ powers are mystical and multi-dimensional (Picture The Matrix and Inception having a baby).
Unfortunately, Doctor Strange is an origin story, so it’s fairly slow in its second act as we watch Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) become the hero. But I also understand that origin stories are necessary. We can’t just have Doctor Strange show up in Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, or the next Avengers movie without knowing who the hell he is and how he got that way first. We need time to grow and love Doctor Strange as a hero, and Cumberbatch is doing the lord’s work there.
I don’t know if it’s because Bendy Boo in the Cucumber Patch has been an internet boyfriend for years now or if it’s because the writers really amped up the “Root for this guy!” mojo, but I feel like he’s on par with Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man in that I literally can think of no one else to fit this part. He’s a dick in the beginning, a charming teacher’s pet in the middle, and a quirky leader by the end. It’s probably one of Marvel’s fastest zero-to-hero stories yet, and I can’t WAIT to see him interact with the Avengers.
I do feel bad for the other actors, though. Beyond Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One (who, as I discussed in the radio review below, was in a bad spot with a whitewashing vs. orientalism conversation), I don’t feel like the others were well-utilized. Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer was somehow less useful than Thor‘s Jane Foster. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo won’t have anything to do until he becomes an antagonist. And Mads Mikkelsen who plays villain Kaecilius, well, he’s a Marvel villain who’s not Loki, so yeah.
On a final note, I would like to point out one thing that was bugging me while I watched this movie. The composer for Doctor Strange is Michael Giacchino. He was tapped to create/revamp the theme in 2009’s Star Trek. Annnnnnnnd I feel like good ole’ Giacchino may have borrowed from Star Trek to make Doctor Strange‘s main theme. Listen to Star Trek here, then Doctor Strange here. Do you hear it?
(Oh, and there are two credits scenes! One mid-credits, one post-credits. To be honest, I was more excited about the mid because Doctor Strange meets with an Avenger. That’s as much as I’ll say!)
Doctor Strange: B+
Listen to my review of Doctor Strange on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 34:26).