Doctor Strange Review
By Sameer Kazmi
Edited by Carl Cottingham
There’s really only one word I can use to describe this movie: “different”. This doesn’t necessarily make the movie better, but it definitely gives the Marvel Cinematic Universe a whole new dimension. Doctor Stephen Strange, played by the brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch, is the latest addition to the MCU, bringing with him a deep-dive into this world’s take on magic. When we first meet Strange, he is an arrogant, materialistic surgeon living in New York City, who gets into a car accident which destroys the nerves in his hands. This disability means that not only does he lose his livelihood but also his purpose in life. Western medicine and experimental procedures fails him and he ends up going to Nepal to seek a cure. There, he meets a mysterious mystic known as the Ancient One, played by the always dependable Tilda Swinton. This encounter marks the beginning of Strange’s transformation from a mere mortal into the Sorcerer Supreme.
The biggest strength of this film is, without a doubt, its incredible visual effects, which are unlike anything I’ve seen on the big screen. We merely got a taste of this visual aesthetic in the trailers, but the film takes it to a whole new level. There are several shots of buildings folding into themselves, portals being used to travel from one place to another and all sorts of mind-bending scenarios that are creatively crafted. The fights scenes in the film are also spectacular, fresh and very different from what we’ve seen in previous Marvel movies. Punching and kicking are still enjoyable but it’s sometimes refreshing to see a unique way of depicting a familiar way of fighting.
The cast of Doctor Strange, unsurprisingly, did not let anyone down. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo and Benedict Wong as Wong play The Ancient One’s dedicated followers with their very distinct magical style and both were excellent performers. Rachel McAdams as Strange’s friend/former love interest/coworker Cristine Palmer was good, but was not given much to do. However, she did manage to make an impression on me despite her limited screen time. Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One displayed her wisdom and intensity to show Strange the importance of the things they do as sorcerers. Swinton provided a lot of the exposition in the film and was great, as she usually is in most of her work. Yet the man of the hour is, of course, Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s a testament to Mr. Cumberbatch’s abilities to portray a man with a massive ego and love for material things in the beginning, but in the end, shift into a hero with humanity and selflessness. He also has his fair share of comedic moments, along with the rest of the cast. This movie continued the MCU’s lighter tone, and it worked for the most part.
Every superhero movie depends on the strength of its villain, and Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius brought a certain menace to his role that Marvel villains have sadly not been able to do as of late. Unfortunately, like most Marvel villains before him, he wasn’t given nearly as much to do as one would’ve liked. His motivations for being the villain were not particularly clear as well; while we do learn about his reasons through exposition, it would’ve been better to see this sort of transformation ourselves. This lack of a strong compelling villain is the sole reason that prevented the film from becoming one of the best in the MCU. What we do get though, is an enjoyable visual spectacle. Still, despite his flaws, Kaecilius might still be one the MCU’s better villains as of late.
My other issue with the film was its rushing Strange’s transformation into a sorcerer. In one scene, we see him struggling with magic, and in the next scene, he is fully dressed up in sorcerer regalia and successfully attempting spells difficult even for most of his peers. I’m aware that it is difficult to cover a story so complex in two hours, but perhaps spending an extra 10/15 minutes on his transformation would have been better.
Doctor Strange has its flaws and it may not be among the MCU’s top films. Yet, the spectacular visual effects, the all-star cast, unique set pieces, and fun tone make up for the underwhelming villain and slightly rushed plot. This is a film that anyone can enjoy, but don’t go into it expecting a comic book masterpiece.