Marvel’s Doctor Strange is one of those movies that could have gone in either direction quickly. It was a chief concern, almost as big of a gamble as Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy. Yet, Marvel managed to pull another rabbit out of their collective hat and deliver a strong movie that manages to change some of the motifs that have become common in, not just Marvel, comic movies.
The origin story is not that different from other comic movies but at the same time it is. It has the possibility to become another Iron Man origin story but it moves beyond that into a personal struggle. Dr. Stephen Strange is a successful neurosurgeon and is quite prideful in his work. His ability to see things in his mind and think outside the box, not to mention the steadiness of his hands, is his point of pride.
After a terrible automobile accident, Strange is left without the proper use of his hands. He can barely hold a pencil or write his name to say anything about being able to perform surgery on anyone again. After hearing a story about Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt) recovering from a spinal injury that was supposed to leave him paralyzed, Strange goes off to the far off reaches of Nepal to find his miraculous healing.
He is introduced to The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and is led on his journey to not only discovering his ability to become Sorcerer Supreme and have to make that fateful decision as to whether he will accept his gifts and take on this new role of guarding the Earth from alternate dimensional enemies or use the powers to simple repair his hands and return to his normal life as a successful and famous surgeon.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Stephen Strange is quite a different take than the character he plays on the BBC series Sherlock. Some people have made qualms about his American accent but I found it quite good and it did not bother me one bit. While he delivers his lines with perfection and his humor is quite funny, it is his ability to play the silent moments when he is constantly torn between the path he is choosing and his past.
Two major recurring issues with comic book movies is their villains and their female leads. Mads Mikkelsen, who plays Kaecillius, and Rachel Mcadams, who plays Christine Palmer, are no slouches in their performance but their characters are designed to really assist the lead to achieve his complete goal. However, of all the supporting cast, these are the only two characters that suffer from one-dimensional writing.
Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as Mordo is incredible powerful, especially next to Cumberbatch. He is one of the characters that actually makes the biggest arc in the film, which is something that could have been left as a “what will happen” but his character comes full circle in the stinger scene at the end of the credits which left me very impressed that it had nothing to do with Thanos. Swinton’s turn as The Ancient One was strong and her final moments in the film were probably one of the most powerful scenes in the film.
Of course, you cannot talk about the cast without mentioning Wong, played by Benedict Wong. The keeper of the ancient books or the librarian. While his character is created as an unimpressed foil for Strange, their chemistry leads to some of the funniest scenes in the movie. Wong was not a throw away character but someone that comes around to Strange’s abilities and becomes a close ally.
Two things that this movie changed from what has become a staple of the comic movies is the large destruction of the city and the moral ambiguity of killing. Cumberbatch has a pivotal scene in the movie after he is forced to kill one of Kaecillius’ henchmen in the sanctum. He declines being the protector as he was forced to take a life given that he is a doctor and is supposed to save lives. In the climatic final battle, Hong Kong is laid waste, Strange uses his time manipulation abilities to take back the destruction and save lives as opposed to just beating the bad guy not matter how much damage he causes.
Doctor Strange is a trip of a movie visually and a compelling storyline that changes the pattern of the cinematic universe. It seemed to be Marvel’s way of saying, we get it. They need to take responsibility and know that causing so much damage is not the way they should be acting. Basically, a thread from the original Civil War comic storyline, which is what causes Captain America to surrender. Marvel did another excellent job adapting what could have been a horrendous movie and turned it into an even better Marvel movie that any of the previous.