Marvel Studios’ latest foray into the mega-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is Doctor Strange. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the title character, a former brilliant neurosurgeon who becomes a sorcerer after a reluctant personal journey.
Basically, Doctor Strange is an origin story that introduces audiences to the sorcerer and his world. After a car accident shatters the nerves in his hands, Dr. Stephen Strange is desperate to repair the nerve damage so he can resume his shallow, entitled lifestyle. Think of a less charming version of Tony Stark before he became the heroic Iron Man. His desperation takes him to Nepal where he comes across a secret sect of sorcerers led by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her lieutenants Mordo (Chiwetol Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong). The sorcerers introduce Strange to the mind-bending reality of the multiverse with its indescribable dimensions and its evils. Their mission is one of seeking enlightenment and of guarding the Earth and our dimension from evil. In this case, the extradimensional being Dormammu and its disciple, Kaecillus (Mads Mikkelson) a former student of the Ancient One who embraced the dark side of sorcery and wants to learn the secret of immortality.
Doctor Strange would have been a standard coming-of-age origin story if not for the wildly trippy visuals and the performance by Cumberbatch. Once again Marvel Studios strikes gold with its casting in the pivotal role of the sorcerer, and remarkably enough with Swinton. With the latter, the casting choice is controversial because of the racial and gender-swapping nature being that the Ancient One in the Marvel Comics is an elderly Asian male. But Swinton does nicely in her critical role.
The drawbacks to Doctor Strange have to do with a common complaint about most MCU films, namely the villains. There isn’t any depth to Kaecillus, he’s very one-dimensional and is upstaged late in the film by the gigantic visage of Dormammu, who should’ve had more screen time. Even there, the supposedly powerful foe was handled fairly easily by Strange. Other characters were hit or miss. Mordo had an interesting arc where his fundamental belief system is shaken to the core, while Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) was forgettable and didn’t have any screen presence or chemistry with her former lover Strange.
The story itself was serviceable but on the whole comes off as formulaic for an MCU film. It goes like this; unlikeable or self-centered main character gains super powers and undergoes an emotional journey as a reluctant hero before fully embracing his destiny as a full-fledged hero.
Still, Doctor Strange is an entertaining MCU film that should be placed in the upper mid tier of the other MCU films thanks to director Scott Derrickson’s vibrant eye for colorful optics. There are many imaginative visuals and effects shots that have never been seen on the large screen. Stephen Strange’s forays into the multidimensional void are alone worth the price of admission, especially in 3D. Many shots perfectly mirror Dr. Strange co-creator Steve Ditko’s unique look, which is astonishing to behold in live action, while unnerving at the same time.
With this film, Marvel Studios has successfully introduced another novel and spectacular corner of the expanding MCU. Even though the script could have used some more work to match its eye-popping scenery, Doctor Strange is a welcome addition to the MCU and hopefully the good doctor/sorcerer will take an even greater role in it.