By: Muneeb Arshid
Movie #2 of phase #3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) graces the audiences with one of the most dazzling visual shows seen on the big screen.
Phase 3 began back in May with the release of the widely regarded Captain America: Civil War, a film that was very highly reviewed by yours truly here at TFL. Now, approximately 6 months later, we add a new member to the Superhero Squad (Marvel style): Mister Doctor Strange. Embodying Stephen Strange on the big screen is Benedict Cumberbatch, introducing himself to the MCU and the comic book mania that surrounds the multiverse. Now, he isn’t someone who is unfamiliar with extreme fandom as he portrays Sherlock in Sherlock (which by the way will be coming Jan 1st with possible reviews by TFL) as well as being a part of the Star Trek and The Hobbit series.
As has been noted elsewhere, Doctor Strange is another comic book origin story (the 7th origin story of the MCU no less), and I know, many of you are getting tired of hearing about another one of these. The problem is when you’re trying to introduce new characters into an already established multiverse, there are two options for their introduction. One, you can integrate them into another storyline which completes their “origin” arc and allows filmmakers to use them in other entities. Or two, you can give each new character an origin story to build enough background knowledge such that the wide audience knows the intricacies of the character. The MCU has employed both strategies. The former being used for characters who you would consider as being more supporting characters such as Vision or Scarlet Witch or Falcon, just to name a few. The latter strategy has been used for characters who have had films named after them, or those considered more “mainstream” than the rest. This would include Iron Man, Captain America, Ant-Man, Thor etc. Doctor Strange falls in that latter category for reasons that become very apparent during the film and which I will try to explain without spoiling plot points.
Stephen Strange is a VERY successful neurosurgeon in New York who takes on cases that are both demandingly difficult but also cases that he knows that will not tarnish his perfect record as a surgeon. One night, on his way to a gala, Strange is in a terrible car accident, the result of which causes him to lose the use of his hands (for a neurosurgeon at least). For Strange, he has built his ego and success on the back of his medical practice and being denied from performing what he loves causes him to become a shell of his former self. His co-worker/lover? Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) tries to reconcile that “everything will be alright”, however after undergoing dozens of procedures (some very experimental), Strange has lost all hope and money to move further and in the process also loses Christine due to his ability to think beyond himself. He happens upon Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt), a man who recovered from a seemingly unrecoverable paralysis. Pangborn tells Strange of a place in Nepal which has allowed him to regain his ability to lead a normal life.
Once in Nepal, Strange meets the Ancient One (brilliantly played by Tilda Swinton), who shows Strange her powers in a way that is visually arresting to both Strange and the audience. Once a skeptic of the mystic powers, Strange is immediately converted, once he experiences what the Ancient One is able to do. He sets upon learning the ways of the mystic arts all while the Ancient One is skeptical about Strange. He reminds her of a former protege in Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who was a keen learner just like Strange, but his arrogance let him go astray and join Dormammu (the bad guy) and the zealots. The Ancient One is conscientious of that and is reluctant to take on Strange until she is convinced by another sorcerer, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who says that Strange could be the key in the battle.
Up until this point, the film is doing what any origin story would do: introduce the character, the character experiences a major setback and then that character must redeem themselves for the greater good to fight off an evil power. It is this formula that many people have become tired with from an origin film, and I’ll be honest, I’ve experienced that feeling more times than not. However, aside from the plot, there are other features of this film that lend themselves to aiding and strengthening that story. The characters, the beautiful visual effects and the score all work together to scaffold the story that we’ve all seen before.
First of all, the characters. The characters are fabulous. Most notably it is the interplay between the characters which allows the film to have a great atmosphere throughout. For fans of the character from the comic book, they are already aware of how much “fun” Stephen Strange is. He conducts himself in a manner whereby there is an air of confidence exuding from his persona and allows for everyone to have a good time. Where this film succeeds is that, even when Strange is brought down by the accident, there are still those fun moments afterwards where his persona shines through and the story is still able to employ that comedic factor. The interplay between Strange and Palmer, between Strange and the Ancient One (which is a very interesting dynamic), and between both Mordo and Wong (Benedict Wong) keeps the fun going for the entire 115-minute run-time.
I think that’s enough talking about anything other than the outstanding visual effects of this film. If there is anything that supports the story in a higher regard than even the characters, it is how carefully the visuals are used to support everything around them. The scene that everyone has seen in the trailer (and the picture above) when The Ancient One blasts Strange and his “astro-form” out of his body is truly remarkable. But, care has been taken not to overdo the usage of the “crazier” visuals, rather there is a beautiful usage of how the magical spells are used. The choreography between the hand motions and the actual visual spells are integrated with coordination that is not overly taxing on the audience but also looks genuine when the characters are “waving their hands about”. Now, I don’t take it lightly when I say that the visuals in this film are on par with some of the best stuff we’ve ever seen in cinema. The film that is garnering the comparison to Doctor Strange is Inception. And as great as Inception was, that film had so much going on all at the same time that you really had to work hard to keep your mind working. Now, that’s not necessarily a terrible thing, on the contrary actually. Inception is one of my favourite films, but it requires a level of analysis that has to interweave the visuals with the story and the characters and in that film, the story itself requires a lot of attention, which means the visuals become quite exhausting sometimes. This is what helps Doctor Strange because the story is something that is comprehensible by all, the visuals allow for a greater admiration by the audience.
Another superhero film, another resounding success I might add. Many people might say that it was another “by the books” Marvel product. I would say that, yes, this is another origin story which is very close to being another Iron Man origin story. The comparables are all there to see. However, there is enough stylish support around the story that allows the film to create its own identity amongst the plethora of films that now exist in the MCU.
We, the generally superhero film-loving crew at TFL grant Doctor Strange a grade of B+ (8.1/10).