You’re a man looking at the world through a keyhole. You’ve spent your life trying to widen it. Your work saved the lives of thousands. What if I told you that reality is one of many? -The Ancient One
Stephen Strange, Doctor Stephen Strange. A renowned neurosurgeon capable of conducting the most extremely difficult procedures with his bare, stable hands. Famous, smart, pompous, and arrogant. One day as he’s going to a fancy get-together to present on his latest research he is distracted by his phone (and arrogance) and gets into a fatal car accident. Strange is eventually rescued and taken to the ER, he undergoes many procedures and finally emerges…severely scathed. The accident busted his hands, big time. He had to have several steel rods inserted in his hands not to mention the damage to the nerves. Point is, his hands, his most prized possession, and his only means of being a neurosurgeon have been taken away from him.
Strange goes crazy. He undergoes numerous procedures to try and fix his hands alienating and hurting everyone around him along the way. He then hears about a man who was able to walk after being paralyzed, after investigating he packs his bags and books a one way ticket to Kathmandu, Nepal. After a long search he finds Kamar-Taj; a sanctuary of some sorts.
At Kamar-Taj, Strange is taught by the Ancient One and one of the disciples, Mordo. They teach him the art of sorcery and explain to him that there are other dimensions that exist. Through this “training montage” we are introduced to the villain of the story: Kaecilius. Kaecilius was a disciple at Kamar-Taj but he was, let’s say too ambitious. He stole some pages from one of the books that contains the spell/ritual to summoning a super villain entity from an alternative dimension-aptly named the dark dimension: Dormammu. In Dormammu’s world there is no such thing as time. Kaecilius wants to summon Dormammu and have him take over earth, in his belief, this will grant them immortality because when time ceases to exist, so does death. Kaecilius’ plan to bring Dormammu to Earth relies on destroying the three main “sanctums” that protect the Earth from extra-dimensional horrors. These sanctums are in New York, London, and Hong Kong.
And to avoid spoiling the movie, I’ll just say that the third act of the movie was an epic battle (epic meaning large in size not necessarily awesome) between Strange, Kaecilius, and Dormammu. The forces of evil are thwarted by the forces of good, or by the forces of the arrogant-guy-who-eventually-becomes-good.
Stephen Strange. Might I offer you some advice? Forget everything that you think you know. -Baron Mordo
I have mixed feelings about this movie. Let me say that I enjoyed it, but I had some issues with several parts.
The story starts off great, we have a clear, strong plot line: arrogant, genius doctor loses the use of his hands and tries to regain his powers by learning the mystic arts. Clear, somewhat cliche, but interesting nonetheless. Even having Kaecilius in the mix wasn’t that bad, the traditional ideal student gone to the dark side, a Darth Vader, so far so good. However when they throw in the whole Kaecilius destroying the world by summoning a timeless demon god, that’s where they lose me. It felt like a classic third act. Pointless, disjointed from the story, and even abrupt. The build up to the scene was weak, I would’ve like a smaller challenge that tests Doctor Strange and explores the nuances of the characters rather than a save the world at the last moment montage. It would’ve been much more interesting to have it be an intra-personal, where Strange is tempted to give up the whole fighting for the greater good and using magic to go back to his normal life. They hinted at that and brought it up for like 10 minutes then went back to the whole apocalyptic-end-of-the-world scenario. I wanted Strange to be an antihero of some sort, maybe have him give up the superhero business and just go back to his normal life, channeling the magic he acquired to live. And the second movie (because they’re always a sequel) can be a battle of the worlds type because by then we would’ve seen enough of Strange and his character development that his decision to save the world would have a greater impact. I also didn’t buy the whole newly minted sorcerer Strange able to take down and escape from the star disciple Kaecilius who is powered by the dark lord Dormammu. I know Strange was supposed to be a prodigy of some sort but we didn’t see enough of Strange before he encounters Kaecilius so it was hard to believe that he was able to fight off Kaecilius–especially at the beginning.
Strange’s character arc was, although archetypal, well done and fascinating. It was a bit similar to Iron Man which I liked because it serves as a challenge (and is more realistic). Benedict Cumberbatch can brilliantly pull off the arrogant genius, like an American Sherlock. One of my favorite characters was The Ancient One, portrayed by the amazing Tilda Swinton. It was the perfect blend between morally ambiguous and ambitious leader and repenting broken character. Her acting was phenomenal. Another favorite was Christina Palmer, portrayed by Rachel McAdams. She was so realistic, very sympathetic, just so human. I loved her character and her acting, and the way she interacts with Strange was just perfect. Overall the acting was excellent.
The injuries on Doctor Strange’s face seemed fake (and at one point they disappear and reappear again). I know it’s Strange’s iconic look but I’m pretty sure with their crazy budget they could’ve done it in a more realistic way.
Visually, the movie was one hell of an acid trip. It was freaking amazing. The Deluzian kaleidoscopic terrain, the constant change in the landscape, the colors, the juxtaposition between the characters and the background…all of it. It was phenomenal. The visuals alone make the movie worth watching, I don’t have the words to describe how pleasing and otherworldly it was, aesthetically it was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. The scoring was also really good. The music score perfectly complements the kaleidoscopic nature of the visual; it wasn’t the classic stereotypical Hollywood Asian-martial arts score, but rather a creative symphony that can only be described as “magical.”
My biggest issue with this movie was the humor. Marvel for the first time failed to deliver. The humor was out of place, I did not enjoy it at all. I would understand this type of humor in Guardians of the Galaxy or Spider-Man, but it doesn’t fit with the mythos of Doctor Strange. I would’ve liked the movie to be darker, more solemn, something along the lines of Iron Man III. The humor scenes with Rachel McAdams were good, really good and actually funny. But Doctor Strange trying to crack jokes or the cloak of levitation comically strangling one of Kaecilius’ henchmen was a cheap move, I didn’t appreciate it at all. I know that what differentiates Marvel from DC and other blockbuster franchises is its humor, but this time they overdid it. The humor needs to come from the characters and the scenes, the setup, it shouldn’t feel forced, which is what it felt like in this movie.
I know I tend to get fixated on small details and these details ruin the whole movie for me, this is what happened with the humor in Doctor Strange, it broke the narrative for me.
So I would say for acting, visuals, and score the movie gets a solid 5/5. For plot and scenes it would get a 3/5. Overall the movie is a 3/5. Watch it for the visuals, watch it for Cumberbatch and McAdams, but don’t watch it for the humor.
UPDATE: thinking about the movie now (9 days after watching it) I realized a lot of things, mainly that the movie is incredibly….racist…kinda, sorta…in a way. First off, the whole whitewashing issue. The role of Tilda Swinton, as much as I love her and think that she did a great job in the movie, should’ve been cast to an Asian woman. Not just to check off a diversity checkbox, but because in the original comics (and also culturally and historically speaking) the greatest monk of Nepal is supposed to be an Asian, not a Celtic woman, it’s just common sense. Also the whole mystifying of the East and exoticizing (is that even a word…? making exotic…?) of Eastern religions and practices, that felt a bit….wrong, something that we should’ve left in the past century. I understand the trope of Eastern fighting style but once you throw monasticism and an implied religious element it feels a bit disrespectful. I don’t have the right answer as to what they should’ve done or how it could’ve been portrayed more respectfully but I think by now superhero franchises (especially one as big and supposedly progressive as Marvel) should acknowledge race politics in a better way. This isn’t about being “politically correct for the sake of political correctness and pandering to millennials’ feelings about being offended” it’s about cultural erasure and respect.
This is probably a longer discussion for a different post and I might not be an expert on the issue but I thought I’d bring it up anyway, it could generate a discussion of some sort and we’d all learn something new by the end of the day.