I mentioned this in my recent trifecta of Westworld posts, but it has been a while since I’ve written anything for this blog. Was busy with a lot of stuff like work and building a new computer. Now that I am up and running I plan to spend a lot more time creating work for this blog and interacting more in the community (something I desperately need to do because there are so many wonderful creators and writers out there that I want to support). So without further ado, my review for Marvel’s latest film, Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange.
Doctor Strange is one trippy entertaining film. Quite simply, I really enjoyed it and I think it is one of the better Marvel offerings. I do have criticisms for it, but overall I had a blast watching it and man, is this a gorgeous film. The visuals Derrickson creates is nothing short of breathtaking. The action, the vistas, the effects are all carefully shot and well crafted. The visuals alone are enough to recommend seeing this film on the big screen. In this film, I saw fight scenes take place on kaleidoscope imagery, tiny hands growing out of fingers with more tiny hands growing out of those first tiny hands, Benedict Cumberbatch fighting people on an astral plane while his corporeal body is beneath him, Steve Ditko psychedelic panels come to life, and so much more.
The action matches the visuals. Physics is mostly thrown out the window as these sorcerers conjure energy from other realms and dimensions fighting each other on walls, ceilings, mirrored existences, through space and time, with levitating capes and glass weapons. This film is a mind fuck of an action movie. Imagine the city folding of Inception mixed with the martial arts of the Matrix mixed with the psychedelia of Fantasia mixed with typical Marvel humor and great hero but weaker villain and supporting characters and you get the action of Doctor Strange. And the action keeps building up to the climax. That New York action sequence featured in so many trailers and commercials comes in the middle of the movie! The film quickly introduces us to the insane action by starting the film with a big set piece in London and only builds and builds from there. The climax even puts a twist on the typical blue sky beam thing by utilizing Strange’s intelligence instead of his fighting prowess. It was a great moment with solid climactic action to accompany a battle of wit and will.
I really need to commend the film’s director, Scott Derrickson, for crafting such a stunning film. He did a fantastic job selling the world, as the rules and laws of the film’s magic are explained carefully and intelligently. The rules and limitations of the magic and dimensions make sense and the film doesn’t make the wizardry on display as all powerful, as if the heroes of the film can accomplish anything because the magic is so limitless. Not everything can occur thanks to this film’s magic. There are limitations and boundaries. Derrickson always makes sure that the characters and the writing reflect those boundaries by showing some impossibly things become possible, but not all. Many fantasy films don’t take the time to explain the film’s magic, I’m glad Derrickson did.
Cumberbatch and the rest of this amazing cast did a wonderful job. Mikkelsen has an important scene that completely sells his villain thanks to a incredible bit of acting (and thanks to those cheekbones and cool eye makeup), though I wish I had spent more time with his character. Ejiofor is great and Mondo, Strange’s ally and teacher. Though I wished I spent more time with him to see him more as a human and less as a teacher/ally. McAdams is an amazing actress and I always enjoy her performances, but she has almost nothing to do. She (THANKFULLY) is never a damsel in distress and she, as a person, never needs Strange to define her life, but she only exists to react to some crazy magic stuff and save his life. She is a successful doctor in her own right, cares for the eponymous hero, but probably could do a lot better because Strange is a straight up ass hole to her.
Strange as a character is similar to Tony Stark, as many people have already pointed out. He is highly intelligent, a born leader, snarky, successful, rich, injured, becomes a superhero, has facial hair. But unlike Stark who is charming and was mostly selfish but not mean, Strange is not a great person. Before he breaks his hands which then leads him to seek the mystic arts to heal himself which then in turn makes him a world saving sorcerer, Stephen Strange was a highly successful neurosurgeon who relished his skill, his photographic memory and charm, that he lashed out to anyone who tried to or refused to help as he tried to grasp onto the main thing that defined him, a gifted surgeon who was capable of so much with his skillful hands. There is a scene where Strange just lashes out at McAdams’ Christine with hatred and coldness that really took me back. In that scene, I realized how nasty of a man Strange was capable of being, which made it all more impressive that I rooted for him at the end. Strange doesn’t just have to find the hero in him in so many other arrogant snarky Marvel heroes, he has to find the good in him, the ability to let go, to let others help, to not be alone.
But unlike Strange’s crafted character arc, most of the supporting cast gives great performances for underwritten characters. My biggest complaint with the film is that the film does not focus enough time and energy on its supporting players. This film moves quickly, and I wish the film was twenty or thirty minutes longer as we see more training and interactions between Strange and Mondo, more of the history of Strange and Christine, see Wong (Benedict Wong) in action more, and see more evil and crimes performed by Mikkelsen’s villain. The world of Doctor Strange is so wonderful and incredible I would gladly spend a whole series of films in this world, I just wish more of that world building included the characters too.
With great action, stunning visuals, a worthwhile plot, solid music (a first for Marvel?), and fantastic performances, Doctor Strange is completely worth seeing. This new corner of the MCU involving magic is a fascinating one and I can’t wait to see more of the film’s creations. I just hope that next time, Derrickson is allowed to focus more time on the characters, as he showed with hanging character threads, that he isn’t afraid to craft a superhero film where not everything ends all nicely and tied with a bow. This film is unique, and sequel deserves to be something special.