The newest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), “Doctor Strange” is the latest attempt to bring one of Marvel’s more unique and obscure characters into the mainstream. The film tells the story of Doctor Stephen Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), a rather arrogant neuroscientist who ends up getting into a car accident which results in serious nerve damage to his hands.
Trying to find a cure to heal himself, Strange ends up turning to Eastern methods after modern-day Western techniques fail to help him. From here, he meets the Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton) who teaches him in the ways of time-bending, sorcery and magic of all kinds in order to heal himself. However, a new threat reveals itself when an evil sorcerer (played by Mads Mikkelsen) threatens to gain power by summoning the all-powerful and villainous Dormammu (also played by Cumberbatch), and it is up to Strange to stop him.
The MCU has been on a roll for close to a decade now, not only making solid films with characters we all know while allowing us to take superhero movies more seriously, but also in giving more obscure characters their time to shine. From 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” bringing to the screen a talking tree and gun-wielding raccoon, to 2015’s “Ant-Man” presenting Marvel’s tiniest hero, this mega franchise has succeeded in paying homage to lesser-known characters while also introducing them to new audiences who likely never touched a comic.
So, it was no wonder that “Strange” would be one of 2016’s most hotly anticipated cinematic experiences, especially when Oscar-nominated Benedict Cumberbatch was announced to play the titular character. How did Marvel do this time around? Unsurprisingly, the filmmakers have yet again brought a more obscure comic book character to charismatic, riveting life.
The film has many strengths. The performances, as one would likely imagine, work very well. While it is likely that Doctor Strange’s character will be compared to Iron Man given their characteristics, what really makes this character is Cumberbatch’s performance. The man can do no wrong and he proves it yet again here, giving Strange a surprisingly held-back yet charismatic personality with plenty of well-executed development. Just imagining this guy going back and forth with the Avengers already has me laughing with excitement.
The other characters and their performances are also very well done. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo and Benedict Wong as Wong make great sidekicks who provide a nice helping of comic relief and surprising depth. And despite the controversy surrounding her casting, Swinton also does a very fine job at playing the Ancient One (even though I still agree it would have been nicer if the movie had gotten someone of the character’s Tibetan heritage to play her).
The film’s biggest strengths are easily its visuals. The warped sets and mind-blowing use of powers are unbelievable and are an achievement in modern-day computer-generated imagery. The effectiveness of these Oscar-worthy effects really kick in during the action scenes as they captivated, entranced, shocked and entertained me thoroughly in a way that not many other superhero, or even action movies, have ever done, which only better exemplifies the film’s great creativity. The direction, writing and tone are all, for the most part, pretty solid. The film balances the usual Marvel movie comedy and lightheartedness with some deep morals and themes about overcoming your weaknesses while keeping the overall fun essence of a comic book intact.
“Doctor Strange” comes with its share of issues. Easily the biggest issue I found within the film had to be in its pacing. While most of the film felt pretty well crafted, some moments would interrupt other scenes without very smooth transitions only to return to the scene that was already playing out fine on its own. Other times, particularly during the climax, things seemed like they would accumulate to something much bigger, but ultimately don’t, which given the film’s extraordinary use of visual effects, comes off as both anticlimactic and disappointing.
Also, like many other films in the MCU, the villain here was rather forgettable. His plan is generic, and his connection with some of the characters is either nonexistent or not explored as much as it could have been. There is a bit of a twist on who the real villain of the movie ends up being around the end which, according to one of the movie’s post-credit scenes (there are two and, trust me guys, you’ll want to stick around for them!) could be explored more in later movies. This is an interesting idea, but I still could have seen the revealed villain working more if they had properly established his relationship with the characters in the film’s first act and then had his transition to antagonist occur down the road.
Overall “Doctor Strange” is another fun, engaging and entertaining entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thanks to its stellar cast, creative premise, enjoyable tone and off-the-chain special effects and action sequences, “Strange” can proudly stand on its own in the expansive world of superhero movies. However, in this over-saturated year of superhero movie after superhero movie giving us more or less of the same thing, “Doctor Strange” is most certainly the breath of fresh air we need!
Mikael, 18, is a freshman at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta where he plans to major in animation. Mikael has made a host of stop-motion and claymation short films, including his popular Donald Trump VS webseries and his award-winning short film “The Tree That Refused To Fall,” which can all be found on his YouTube channel, Cyclops Studios.