Doctor Strange


Release: Friday, November 4, 2016


Written by: Scott Derrickson; Jon Spaihts; C. Robert Cargill 

Directed by: Scott Derrickson

Benedict Cumberbatch’s introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is far from inauspicious, but Doctor Strange falls short of being the prodigy its parents want so badly for it to be, though not for a lack of trying with shaky hands.

Strangely, what proves to be yet another underwhelming, formulaic and contrived origin story ultimately becomes an acceptable reality because inventive special effects rule the day. This is such a sumptiously visual feast the story all but becomes an afterthought. It’s The Deadpool Effect: some movies are just going to get a pass because somehow, whether through mixed tapes, sorcery or outrageous Ryan Reynoldsry, the enjoyability factor supersedes substance. Cumberbatch slips into the superhero role like he’s been here before, turning in an excellent performance that will be, if anything, the big takeaway from this particular chapter in the MCU. He’ll be the torch that will light this story through forthcoming installments.

It’s either that or the Inception-on-steroids visual gimmickry that takes our lowly three-dimensional existence and flips it, twists it, inverts it and then manipulates it back into a shape approximate to what was there before. In Doctor Strange you’ll experience a multitude of physical and even psychological paradoxes as you break the planes of multidimensional existence and pass through portals to other worlds (or just other parts of our world). Perhaps no other movie this year or in the last several have made such a conscientious effort to make the viewer feel like they’re hallucinating most of what they’re witnessing. Go ahead, rub your eyes. It’s really happening.

The story, the fall from grace of Tony Stark Md. Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange, isn’t particularly exciting but I suppose it’s one worth investigating here. An egomaniacal surgeon who regularly performs miracles on the operating table, his world is flipped upside down one night when he is involved in a bad car accident and becomes a patient in the very hospital he has stood tall in for years. A complicated emergency surgery follows, something that Strange doesn’t take altogether very well. In the ensuing fall out, he shuns emotional support provided by former lover and fellow surgeon Christine Palmer (an under-used Rachel McAdams) after attempts to receive experimental surgery fail. Too arrogant to accept there are other ways in which he can help people, Strange sets off for Kathmandu to seek the help of a mystic who lives there.

A hop, skip and jump later we’re in the slums of Nepal, sifting through an altogether unfamiliar environment. The backdrop suggests humble new beginnings, but it’ll take some time for Strange himself to become humbled. His arrogance follows him everywhere, even inside the walls of the Kamar-Taj, a secret compound that could have been lifted right out of the Matrix training program. Rather than a dojo for Neo to learn how to control his mind, it’s one in which Strange will learn to drop everything he knows to be true and to embrace the realm of sorcery and magic. Tilda Swinton, beautifully androgynous in the role as The Ancient One, is his reckoning.

The Sorcerer Supreme shows the doctor that indeed other dimensions exist — realms that Earth is shielded from thanks to the tireless efforts of sorcerers stationed at the three sanctums found in London, New York and Hong Kong. But she’s not prepared to train Strange because his cocksureness reminds her of a former Master who had gone rogue. That Master is none other than Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who became seduced with the idea of eternal life offered by Dormammu (voiced by Cumberbatch), a supreme being concealed in the bowels of the Dark Dimension. Kaecilius manifests as the film’s chief antagonist, with whom Strange finds himself interacting if not entirely too prematurely.

And that’s largely the film’s problem: it is in too much of a hurry to get to the goods. Much of this transformation, while rewarding in the sense that this is much like returning to the mindfuck Neo experienced when he took the red pill, is designed to provide the easiest, most agreeable payoffs. Like much of Marvel’s cinematic property. Here, though, the psychological, philosophical and mystical elements lend themselves to a much more high-brow kind of cerebral experience. Once more the cutting edge of creativity is blunted by writing-by-committee: witty one-liners attempt to provide levity but end up more distracting and pandering, the training montage is almost blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, and the villain is maddeningly mediocre, though the talented Danish actor makes him worth watching more so than he probably deserves.

Notable stand-out performances help elevate the pedestrian narrative considerably. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo is an idealist with an intense and complicated relationship with The Ancient One who is the first to accept Doctor Strange into the ranks. Then there’s the film’s second Benedict, Benedict Wong who plays . . . Wong. I’m actually not kidding. He is a source of stoicism and loyalty, acting as the full-bodied keeper of the Kamar-Taj and chief librarian, after the former librarian is, um, relieved of his duties. And Mikkelsen resonates in the role of a man hell-bent on immortality. He convincingly argues he is not out for the destruction of mankind but rather the continuation of it, albeit via some pretty questionable methods.

We’re 14 movies deep into the MCU and yet Doctor Strange never seems to work as hard as it should, overly reliant on the strength of the visual component to carry the burden. (Okay, and Cumberbatch, lest I forget to state the obvious. He’s great.) This particular film, directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister; The Day the Earth Stood Still) is an axiom in the sense that modern cinema is trending the more visual route rather than the intellectual. Like DeadpoolDoctor Strange never succumbs to mediocrity, but it’s just barely above that threshold. The familiarity of everything we go through makes the title Doctor Not-So-Strange-Actually-He’s-Quite-Normal feel more appropriate.


Recommendation: Don’t get me wrong, Doctor Strange is a lot of fun, but when it comes to introducing another of its obscure characters, Marvel seems far too satisfied with outfitting them with overly familiar clothes. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain . . . “

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18 thoughts on “Doctor Strange

  1. Pingback: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story | digitalshortbread

    • I have to disagree with that, and the fact that it is SO similar to what marvel has done is what brought the “score” down for me. I had a lot of fun with this, but the origins story was so cookie-cutter; I mean, we are 14 movies deep into MCU now so that’s almost to be expected as they’re trying to launch yet another (obscure) character, but I can see why you left feeling short-changed. I was sort of disappointed myself, even not carrying in a great deal of expectation.

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  2. The humour & visuals carried this past the over-familiar story into the realm of very enjoyable for me, but it is a shame they didn’t put a bit more effort in. I mean, I think they really wanted to establish this new side of the Marvel universe, so felt they had to do the whole “origin story” thing rather than diving in to Strange already being powered-up, but surely it didn’t have to hit all the familiar beats? Or maybe it did — maybe there is no other way to do a superhero origin!

    Also wish I could’ve seen it in 3D (all the screenings around me were at inconvenient times). And now I likely never will. Sad face.

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    • Yeah this is one movie I regret not slapping down an exorbitant amount of money for one ticket, but c’est la vie. I had a great time in the standard format anyway, and yeah the blueprint for this story is far from original but it does “work.” Dr. Strange is an interesting character so I guess my impression was that the story was going to be really odd surrounding him as well. But like you say, I’m not sure if there’s really a good way to forego the traditional story building, especially since there will be more of these to come. Everything has to start somewhere. But really, I was hoping there’d be something *extra* to this.

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      • Reading some of the post-release interviews, it sounds like there are things they held back on because they were worried it’d be too much new stuff for audiences. Hopefully the inevitable sequel will let them cut loose a bit more.

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        • I’m hoping so too. I think this material has the potential to go to some really cool places. I’m of a mind to say I might have underrated this a tad, because the more I think about that final battle — originally something I would have said was a good example of the formulaic-ness of it all — the more it was pretty cool. And the use of time dilation and stuff was neat. Really Matrix-y. They should go nuts with that in the next one.

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          • I guess it depends where you put the emphasis as a viewer. Like, if you think a lot about the plot and the characters, it begins to feel quite generic; but if you focus instead on some of the ideas and the execution, it feels like a pretty exciting and original film.

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  3. It’s a standard issue origin story. The plot is pretty thin and the character arc makes no sense. First he’s selfish, then he’s selfless. But hey those visual tho. Very cool!

    P.S. I saw it in 3D.

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    • I’m so envious of those who saw this in 3D. I can’t believe it didn’t even cross my mind to do it when I went on Thursday. But yeah ultimately the 3D glasses wouldn’t have had an impact on what really was an underwhelming origin story (to me). It wasn’t just his selfishness that just seemed to evaporate. He became a Neo in a matter of scenes. The training montage, his accruement of knowledge, it all happened so incredibly fast. The setting and the characters were what made this film a unique thing so I wouldn’t have minded at all spending some more time with them so things could have been better developed!


  4. Pingback: Doctor Strange: Movie Man Jackson | MovieManJackson

    • I have to agree. I totally had a good time, but this is the same kind of rehashed origin story we have seen a number of times. The good news is, this cast made it all worthwhile, and those visuals are out-of-this-world (no pun intended haha)

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    • Thanks muchly Jeroen, I struggled with this one a bit. Definitely enjoyed myself but it’s actually nothing special storywise


    • 3D honestly is the way to go with this one. It’s so intensely visually oriented I was an idiot and went to the regular version. Because I’m an idiot. 😉

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