MOVIE REVIEW – ‘Doctor Strange’

Written by J.T. Johnson

4-stars

DIRECTOR: Scott Derrickson
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Ben Davis
WRITERS: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
MUSIC: Michael Giacchino

“Doctor Strange” is a visually wonderful and well cast movie. The only thing that bogs the movie down is the familiar MCU formula. In other words, “Doctor Strange” sets out to open up a new dimension of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the filmmakers also hold the cards a little too close to their chest with a tried and true origin story.

In the latest Marvel effort, Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an insanely gifted surgeon. However, his gift to heal people and his superior intellect have also made him arrogant. In fact, he could definitely be classified as a giant asshole. That is until a life changing event changes the entire course of his life.

After a terrible car accident, Doctor Strange’s greatest tools, his hands, are messed up beyond repair. Once traditional medicine fails him, he is sent to a mystical location where he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a character that shows him a whole new meaning to reality. He is also introduced to the villainous Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a fallen sorcerer who wants access to the Dark Dimension due to its ability to grant immortality.

The story of a deeply flawed yet brilliant man on a quest that ultimately leads him to be a better person is an origin story we’ve seen a couple of other times in the MCU. In “Iron Man”, Tony Stark was a gifted weapons dealer and in “Thor”, that character was also arrogant about his abilities until events lead both of them to be the superheroes we always knew they could be.

This is the film’s greatest flaw. Instead of doing more of its own thing the way other MCU films did such as “Guardians of the Galaxy”, this film’s story ultimately feels like more of the same. While it does not completely destroy the movie, it does give a “more of the same” vibe.

Another flaw is the same problem found throughout the MCU. Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius is incredibly short-changed and is relegated to a character that acts as nothing more than a threat that Doctor Strange has to stop. While I don’t necessarily mind this, I wish that the filmmakers would cast more relatively unknown actors (think Tom Hiddleston in “Thor”) in these roles so I’m not always thinking that they wasted a well known actor as a character that ends up being a rather minor role.

Now, beyond those two points, I’m so glad that the MCU has embraced the astral plane and multiverse side of things. The movie’s action is unique and mind-bending. The special-effects are staggering and I couldn’t wait to see what the characters would do next.

Case in point, there is a scene where the Ancient One sends Doctor Strange crashing through the multiverse in order to open up his mind and this is not only a visual feast, but it proves why the visual effects department deserves major props for the movie. So, the designers at Luma Pictures and Industrial Light & Magic deserve to take a bow.

Also, while the story may feel a little too familiar, the filmmakers definitely know how to tell it at this point. The cast is extraordinary with what they are given. Cumberbatch was always my first choice to play this role and thankfully, he proved me right with his performance, being a great asshole at first and the true hero by the end of the picture.

Despite some of the controversy over whitewashing, I can’t deny that Swinton was great as the Ancient One. Swinton is an actress that has no problem at showing an otherworldly experience while grounding the character in reality. It also helps that her character has a bit more to do than I expected and her deeper involvement in the story also helps her character stand out.

Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer is another character that we’ve seen before, except her name was Pepper Potts and Jane Foster in other MCU films. She’s simply a character that is not only a love interest, but also a moral compass for the lead character. I highly doubt the character will be remembered very much, but McAdams does a good job with what she is given.

Finally, there is Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong as Karl Mordo and Wong, respectfully. They both act as sidekicks and guides for Doctor Strange and play their roles well. Ejiofor is a character that does suffer a crisis of faith that starts here and I’m sure will be further expanded upon should this movie get a sequel.

Wong is the ultimate sidekick for Strange. He is able to help Strange with his learning, but he also doesn’t put up with Strange’s initial bullshit. This is another character that I can’t wait to see again in future films.

Ultimately, “Doctor Strange” is a film that does it’s job. It kickstarts a new franchise within the overall MCU, but it does it at the cost of being a “been there, done that” origin story. I wish they had opened up the world a little bit more, but hey… That’s what sequels are for, right?

P.S. – Of course, like any other MCU movie, stay for the credits. In this case, there is a mid-credit and post-credit sequence.

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