Doctor Strange: It’s A ‘Strange’ New World
By Michael Alegre
Doctor Strange is somewhat of a paradox, feeling both familiar yet very different at the same time. On one hand, it’s a retelling of the superhero origin story we’ve become so accustomed to in the past decade or so.
The particulars may be different, but its structure and plot direction echo what’s come before – the flawed male protagonist, an inner turmoil, a fun beat on discovering new abilities and the ensuing superpower montage, a mandatory “life lesson” that propels the protagonist to become the hero he’s meant to be – AKA the MCU origin-movie-recipe-for-success.
When you think about it, Doctor Strange is basically Magic Iron Man – a snarky, arrogant alpha male going through a near death experience then learns the value of service to others? It’s so similar! And they even have matching facial hair to boot!
We’re 13 movies in (not to mention non-MCU superhero films) so it’s unavoidable to feel a level of genre fatigue and familiarity. But to Doctor Strange’s credit, it’s still able to bring something fresh to the table. And it’s BLATANTLY obvious what it is.
Doctor Strange’s visuals were a cut above anything I’ve ever seen before! In ANY genre of film! The folding buildings and landscapes (that gives Inception a run for its money), kaleidoscope-style world-morphing, astral projections, vibrant light weapons, time manipulating, and standout sequences like Strange’s multi-dimensional, psychedelic spirit flight were just mind-blowing! Take away the story and you’re still left with a trippy, abstract, visual treat that leaves you with your jaw on the floor. The film’s narrative may have walked a familiar heroic path, but it was a path lined with beautiful new lights and unconventional decor.
It almost seemed impossible to fully translate the scale and outlandishness of the source material but Director Scott Derrickson manages to do it with thoughtful precision. They push the visual envelope far, yes, but not to the point of disorientation and incomprehensibility. It’s a crazy magical world that’s meticulously handled and kept accessible to the audience.
But as dazzlingly made, its biggest contribution to the franchise is its introduction of mysticism and countless parallel dimensions to the MCU. They promised us something new and bizarre, and they delivered. Marvel’s scope just got immeasurably larger and the potential for future stories and dynamics are boundless!
I’d have happily seen this for the visuals and mythology alone, but luckily, that’s not its only draw. The action beats were hard-hitting and intricately done, the story was concise and captivating, the trademark Marvel humor is still there and the casting was spot-on!
Benedict Cumberbatch’s sharp and equally charming presence resonates in Doctor Stephen Strange (no surprise there.) Even his interaction with a CGI cape was believable and incredibly fun to watch! Tilda Swinton is about just as badass as the titular character, seamlessly treading the line between strength and serenity. Chiwetel Ejiofor convincingly sells Mordo’s honor and rigid sense of right and wrong, setting him up to be one of the universe’s more compelling and layered characters. With all the fantastic elements abound, it’s a good thing that Cumberbatch, Ejiofer, Swinton, Mikkelsen all have a natural gravitas to them that lent to the world’s credibility.
Mads Mikkelsen as the villain Kaecilius and Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer, get the short straw here though. Even as Mikkelsen’s calm malevolence and McAdams’ confidence and compassion come so effortlessly, they’re not really given much to work with to make more nuanced characters.
Doctor Strange may have been a tad formulaic but that didn’t necessarily mean it was bad. Its gorgeous visuals, stellar casting, elaborate action sequences, and Benedict Cumberbatch all made up for it (and then some), making this one of Marvel’s best outings to date! And with the obligatory origin story now out of the way, I’m definitely pumped to see where they take Doctor Strange next! Infinite multi-verse’s the limit!