Alright, I’m a little late to the party but I got around t seeing Dr. Strange, the latest offering from Marvel Studios. The movie about Stephen Strange a super talented, brilliant, and super arrogant neurosurgeon who has an accident, cant operate any more, and goes to Tibet on a last ditch effort to get healed and ends up becoming a super awesome sorcerer under the tutelage of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and two of her top assistants (Benedict Wong’s Wong and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Baron Mordo). Strange isn’t a man that believes in the spiritual side of things so he has to overcome that and become a more selfless guy so he can reach his true potential. While that’s going on a former pupil of hers named Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) is plotting to use some dark magic and take over the world, because hey why not.
Now going in, I wasn’t sure about this one. For one, Dr. Strange just isn’t a character I was all that interested in. Second, this is another origin story and we’re kinda at a point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) where things are getting a bit repetitive with the origin stories and all. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t expecting the movie to be good, but I really just wasn’t that hyped for it. And then some of the early reviews, even the good ones, made points about how Benedict Cumberbatch’s Strange was an awful lot like Tony Stark and his story was a lot like the other jerk becomes hero stories we’ve seen in the MCU (Iron Man, Thor, Star Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man). But the effects and the connection to the MCU continuity brought me out for it. So what do I think after seeing it?
What worked for me
- The casting – Cumberbatch did a great job as Strange, and was able to convey just enough uniqueness that Strange was not a carbon copy of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, even when it was time to inject some humor into the role. Benedict Wong was lots of fun; he played off Cumberbatch perfectly and was a great friendly foil. Ejiofor was very good as Mordo as was Swinton as The Ancient One (more on that later).
- The uniqueness – This movie could have very easily been Iron Man with magic, and it wasn’t. They worked in plenty of stuff to make it different with both Strange and the story itself. As we’re on movie number 14 in the MCU and in many ways trying to get through the next two years to hit Infinity War, it’s crucial that Marvel not fall into the same movie, different name trap. Some critics are accusing them of that already but I still think you can see the differences if you pay enough attention.
- The visuals – I got nothing to add here that you haven’t already heard or read. They were awesome and worth the price of admission alone. And they do cover a lot of mileage in making this movie not like the others.
What didn’t work
- The villain – I know, I know…the whole Marvel’s villains suck thing has become a cliche. And like I said before I think it’s badly overstated. I don’t think most of them are bad per se so much as they are not very memorable after the movie’s over. They show up and do standard bad guy stuff, sometimes very well, but they very seldom have the kind of presence or persona that sticks with you afterwards and they often get killed at the end. Same thing here, especially once we get to the final fight.
- The second half was kind of mundane for me. We’d gotten a taste of the visual effects and Strange was fairly up to speed with his powers, so then it was like they had to hit bullet points and get to the end of the movie. Expose mentor as not totally on the up and up? Check. Dispatch mentor so the main character can start ascending to his rightful place? Check. Set things in motion for the sequel? Check. Dispatch villain? Check. And none of that was done badly but it came off very paint by numbers to me.
You can’t talk about this movie without touching on the controversy surrounding Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One. I get wanting to move away from Asian stereotypes but making the character a random Celtic woman seems nonsensical. If you’re gonna do that why not put the temple in Europe and base the magic on Druid lore instead? The ethnicity should have matched up with the location (shout out to my wife for coming up with that, by the way).
Great visuals from start to finish, excellent performances and surprisingly good humor. Nothing that really turned me off, but a lot that wasn’t very gripping, either. This isn’t as disposable as Ant-Man but I have the same disinterest in seeing it again. I’ll watch it again when it’s on cable but it’s not a stop what you’re doing kinda thing.