If you haven’t yet seen Marvel’s newest comer on the big screen, get thee to a theater! Dr. Strange is a fun and gorgeous experience that sets the stage for the character’s presence in the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
For those that are unfamiliar with Stephen Strange and his talents, the good Doctor begins his journey as a renowned neurosurgeon. After a horrific car accident crushes his hands, and his bright future, Strange renounces western medicine in search of higher planes of healing. What he stumbles into is a world of infinite universes, magical manipulation and the traditional “good guy goes bad and wants to end the world” scenario.
At its heart, this movie is an origin story, and the purpose of the origin story is to acquaint your audience with your new cast and environment. Unfortunately, where I felt it lacked was in it’s development of the characters. Sure, Strange’s arrogance and wit were easily identifiable, but his sense of humor seemed to suddenly manifest half-way through the film and the viewer was asked to simply accept this because of a short quip he makes about people usually finding him funny. Or when he casually mentions mid-way through that he has a photographic memory and that’s how he was able to get his two degrees simultaneously. These are classic cases of telling rather than showing – a huge no-no in the world of good story writing. And these aren’t the only examples. Take, for instance, Strange’s love interest, Dr. Catherine Palmer. We know they have a romantic past because they actually discussed the fact that they had a romantic past, not because we could sense it in their chemistry or see moments of intimacy between the two.
And while we’re on the subject of the love interest, yes, she was strong, smart and caring, but she was essentially a lazy plot device to give Strange’s character a lingering connection to his previous life – Oh, and to stitch him up without question whenever he’s been in some trouble. She is the archetypal exasperated yet still fawning former girlfriend who will always love him despite his emotionally-abusive tendencies. This lack of background makes later scenes in the movie immediately forgettable since the viewer doesn’t really care about the relationship to begin with.
The rest of the characterization is much of the same. The cast do an incredible job with what they’re given, though. Cumberbatch is entirely believable as a highly intelligent and charming jerk with a secret heart of gold (almost as if he’s been playing one for years). Rachel McAdams portrays the put-upon lady love with her signature spunky-but-still-doe-eyed-and-passionate persona. Tilda Swinton is absolutely otherworldly as the Ancient One. Seriously, that woman is amazing. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a perfectly affable side-kick/teacher and I can’t wait to see what he brings to the MCU in coming films. And Mads Mikkelsen is delightfully creepy and culty – although I think he was severely underused.
Having said all of that, the plot flowed seamlessly and the story was certainly complete. I left the theater feeling like I hadn’t gotten enough, but that likely stemmed from my issues with character development rather than the plot. The movie feels like an origin story trying really, really hard to *not* be an origin story. Which, although it leads to empty feeling characters, does keep the film from falling into the standard superhero rut that can plague the genre. We learn nothing about Dr. Strange’s past outside of the brief description of his relationship with Palmer, and I can’t help but think his background may become a little better known as the character progresses. But, in all, the story was quick, fun and entertaining. Nothing ground-shatteringly brilliant, but they had a lot of setup to do (I mean, if you think about it, this was Mordo’s origin story too!). I’m of the opinion that the film was too short. It came in at just under two hours and an extra 30 minutes spent developing the individual character’s personalities would have gone a long way to upping it’s story-line.
But, something that nobody can deny is that this is by far the most visually stunning and absolutely gorgeous movie that Marvel has released to date. The graphics are completely surreal at times. One of the first scenes of the movie is a fight between the Ancient One (Swinton) and Kaecilius’s (Mikkelsen) zealots and it is breathtaking! The way the world is manipulated by these magic users in this single scene sets the stage for every incredible graphic along the way. We see the ground moving and matter maneuvered to do beautifully frightening things and open in ways that MC Escher himself would have thought unreal. And the visual intensity continues throughout with inter-dimensional trips, out of body experiences and an entire scene that takes place in a singular moment. It was, in a word, magical.
In all, I enjoyed this movie greatly. I do wish we had more time to get to know our characters, but I have no doubt that Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange will be an incredible addition to the MCU and his character will only continue to grow more and more familiar to us. I can’t wait to see him in a room with Star Lord! I would definitely recommend seeing this one in IMAX if it’s available to you. And don’t forget to stay for the TWO – count em! – TWO after credits scenes at the end!