Movie Name: Doctor Strange
Studio: Movie Studio
Genre(s): Comic Book/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Action/Adventure
Release Date(s): October 13, 2016 (Hong Kong)/November 4, 2016 (US)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant surgeon with a photographic memory and abilities far beyond his peers…just ask him. When his hands are crippled in a near fatal accident, Stephen falls into a pit of despair and abandons his off-and-on girlfriend and coworker Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) to seek a way to fix his shattered nerves. Strange travels to Nepal where he meets Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a strange woman known only as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). The Ancient One teaches of abilities which tap into an unseen world of magic and Strange could be a powerful student if he opens his mind…but the Ancient One’s former student Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) is mounting a revolution that could destroy the Earth!
Directed by Scott Derrickson, Doctor Strange is a Marvel Comics supernatural action film based on the character that first appeared in Strange Tales (1) #110 (July 1963). Following Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, the movie was met with average to positive reviews and ended up over-performing at the box office setting high returns. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
I honestly thought Doctor Strange might be the first real victim of superhero fatigue. Though Sherlock is popular (and I enjoy it), Benedict Cumberbatch seem to be a bit of a niche actor with a hardcore base of fans, and Doctor Strange is also a niche superhero. To my surprise, Doctor Strange did well, and it did have a lot of moments that made it great…but there were also a lot of slow times.
The story has to outline Dr. Strange’s origin because it isn’t as well-known as Spider-Man or other big heroes. This means a long set-up for the movie and this has hurt other Marvel and super-hero films in the past. It does take a while for the action to get going, and the movie does suffer a bit from the built in “we can fix it because it is magic (and we don’t need logic)” aspect of the story at points. The filmmakers also made some interesting decisions at points like boosting Kaecilius role and lowering Dormammu’s involvement and swapping Clea as Strange’s love interest for Christine Palmer who is a version of Night Nurse like Claire Temple from the Netflix series. Unlike other “off-brand” movies like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange doesn’t have as much humor.
A lot was made of Doctor Strange’s casting. Cumberbatch was an easy choice with Strange sharing some of Sherlock’s ego and bravado, but there was backlash against Swinton’s Ancient One. The gender change wasn’t criticized but it was listed as part of the “white-washing” of Hollywood. The character was changed to Welsh and Swinton did a decent job, but it could have been someone of Asian descent…the flipside of this is that the Ancient One was a rather bad stereotype of Asians so it could be seen as taking that aspect out of the character. The race of Karl Mordo was also was also switched (Mordo was Transylvanian) and this also benefited the script by bringing in Chiwetel Ejiofor who gave the movie depth and dimension to a character I always found flat. Mikkelsen always plays a good creep, and Benedict Wong as Wong provides most of the movie’s humor. It was also fun to see a small appearance by Mark Anthony Brighton as Daniel Drumm, the spirit half of Brother Voodoo’s character so he might have a future in the Marvel Universe. The movie also features appearances by Benjamin Bratt (as the most travelled construction man), Chris Hemsworth in his Thor role, and of course Stan Lee in a cameo.
What helps and kills Doctor Strange in my opinion is the special effects. The movie has a lot of fun playing with reality in ways similar to Inception. You have to really focus while watching the movie on what is occurring in the special effects to understand what is happening in the action and the story. It often overwhelms the story. I also kind of wish that the movie had tapped in a bit more to the psychedelic Dr. Strange of the ’60s and ’70s that really inhabited his Greenwich Village beat.
Doctor Strange is an interesting addition to the Marvel Universe though magic doesn’t always mix well with storytelling. I’ll be interested to see where the story goes and how Strange fits into the whole mix…at least it is better than the 1978 live-action TV movie. Marvel follows Doctor Strange with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in 2017.