Doctor Strange is Marvel Studios 2nd film release of 2016 and the 14th Marvel Cinematic Universe entry. It’s based on the Marvel Comics character of Doctor Strange who was created by Steve Ditko back in 1963. The film was directed by Scott Derrickson who is best know for horror films such as Sinister and Deliver Us From Evil.
The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange, a renowned and neurosurgeon who after getting into a car accident loses the use of his hands. He spends time and money having all sorts of procedures done to regain his hands and resume his surgical career. This leads him to an audience with the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who then shows him a world and power beyond himself.
That’s the story in a nutshell. It’s actually very similar to Iron Man. As far as story goes, Doctor Strange is more of what we expect from Marvel Studios in terms of origin stories. It does standout however in some of its own unique ways, but for me lack of character development really hurts the final product.
Doctor Strange is the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that showcases the mystical side of things. As I watched the film I couldn’t help but continually be intrigued by the lessons the Ancient One taught Strange and the amount of world building that it set up. Because of this, any moment the film got to showcase magic, it was truly magical. The biggest strength of Doctor Strange from a technical perspective is its visuals. Inspired by Ditko’s art, yet with a modern perspective that we have seen in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, the visuals suck you in. It felt like a living piece of Escher art. I did not see this in 3D, but I think it would have been worth the money to do so. Especially shots like this.
The film’s shortcomings come in its story which is standard end of the world stuff, and it’s use of its characters. Doctors Strange actually has a pretty fantastic cast that sadly isn’t given enough time to shine.
Cumberbatch as Strange certainly gives the character the weight of a man who goes from unbeliever to believer. It feels right from a storytelling perspective. It’s the rest of the cast that seems to have gotten the short end of development. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo actually interested me as a character far more than even Strange. Sadly, it appears we have to wait for the sequel to get that. The same goes for Rachel McAdams Christine Palmer. We get fed a sample of her relationship with Strange but she’s cut out of the film for a significant amount of time and then reappears and then is gone again.
Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One gets shortchanged on story as well. We discover a mystery about the character and eventually we get what she did, but not why she did, at least in a way that was pleasing to me.
Last there is Mads Mikkelsen’s villain Kaecilius who according to most reviews continues a trend of underwhelming Marvel antagonists. I believe that to be partially correct as he certainly is not as fleshed out as could be, yet his role is fundamentally different as his motivations do not lie with the main character. So while he is not the best comic book movie villain, doing something a tad different with the character motivations is a step in the right direction.
I did enjoy Doctor Strange. I enjoyed the new elements of mysticism that have been added to the Marvel Universe as a whole. It felt thematically like its own film and not just a piece to lead to the next crossover film. It reminded me most of the Phase One films which are the MCU films I enjoy the most. It’s a visual treat, but left me wanting more from a story perspective.
Final Rating (3.5/5) Doctor Strange looks good, with some really good world building. Yet it’s standard story and lacking character development keeps this sorcerer from reigning supreme.