Doctor Strange introduces some magical elements to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We’ve seen some fantasy-type heroes before, like Thor and Scarlet Witch, but Doctor Strange is a full on sorcerer. I honestly had very little anticipation for this film because there have been so many comic book movies this year, some of them very disappointing, and all of Marvel’s films that have tried to be a little different and stray from the classic superhero formula have been not bad, but not great either. I like a change of formula and I love to see a studio take risks, I just want to see it done well. I left the theater happy, though, because the risk they took paid off.
Let me first get out of the way what you already know: Benedict Cumberbatch was a great choice to play this character. I’m not that well versed in comic book knowledge, so I knew nothing about this guy’s backstory or what he was like as a person. I feel like I know the character pretty well now, though, due to the very good writing and Cumberbatch’s great performance. I didn’t feel like he was over-acting, so that grounded the character a bit more. The arrogant side of him, as well as the curious and mischievous side, were all very well realized by Cumberbatch and I did feel a connection to the character as he went through his arc and began to change as a person.
The fantasy element and all the crazy magic in the movie is what really worried me about the idea of Doctor Strange as a film, but it all worked. The filmmakers handled the very cool sorcery aspects with care, but they were also able to balance spectacle with story. I was also impressed that the movie didn’t try to explain everything. The Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton, just tells Stephen Strange that she can harness energy to cast spells and make magic, and also points out that there are other dimensions that can be traveled to. That’s all the explanation we get, though, which is all we needed. The rest is revealed as we experience the magic and the inter-dimensional travel with the main character. We learn about the possibilities (or the impossibilities that are now possible) by seeing rather than being told.
Some scenes still were a bit exposition heavy, however. Even though the magic isn’t explained, there are a few moments throughout the first act that simply tell us what is happening. At times it seemed to me like the movie was just trying to get the exposition over with so it could get to the action, which is what a lot of comic book films (and really most blockbusters) tend to do. Instead of gradually revealing information to progress the story, a character just sits Strange down and tells him what he needs to know. Other times, entire plot points are just glossed over and not given enough attention. When Stephen Strange first encounters The Ancient One and commits himself to learning her sorcery, all of his training is rushed by. One moment he’s curious and not very good at magic, and the next he’s mastered everything and is ready to fight. I wish there had been more in that area of the story, even just a montage, to make his training seem more thorough.
Two things Marvel almost never seems to get right are its villains and its love interest characters. A good bad guy should have some sort of a connection to the main hero so that their conflict has weight, but many of Marvel’s villains are just threats to the world or inconveniences to the hero. It makes the characters less interesting and complex, and it makes the fight sequences less impactful, no matter how exciting they are. The Winter Soldier is a good antagonist in Captain America: The Winter Soldier because he was once friends with Captain America and there’s an emotional battle going on between them. Loki is a pretty good villain in The Avengers (but not in Thor) for many reasons, but his being Thor’s brother adds some impact to their confrontations. Doctor Strange‘s Kaecilius isn’t all that great of a character because he’s just a power-hungry baddie that we’ve seen a million times before, and he never really feels like more than a physical threat to Doctor Strange and to the world.
Strange’s girlfriend-ish, played by Rachel McAdams, also doesn’t serve much of a purpose in this movie. Captain America‘s Agent Carter and Iron Man‘s Pepper Potts are the only two Marvel love interests that are that interesting or memorable because they’re actually given something to do. In Doctor Strange, Rachel McAdams has only ne scene that puts her to use, but she’s pretty much pointless throughout the rest of the movie. That scene, though, in which she operates on Strange’s body as his spirit battles another spirit in the room, is one of my favorite in the film because a) it’s well shot and choreographed, b) it’s intense and exciting, and c) it finds a good use for Rachel McAdams’s character that is both entertaining and works to move the plot forward.
The trippy visual effects and crazy CGI sequences that feature characters running on walls, bending streets and buildings, and travelling across time and space are spectacular, and they’re just as cool as they looked in the trailers. In fact, they’re even better. If you get a chance to see this film in 3D, definitely do so. The mind-bending style of some of these sequences is accomplished with some of the most impressive CGI I’ve seen in my life, and 3D actually improves the experience even more. There are quite a few character flaws, and certain storytelling techniques don’t always work, but I can’t deny Doctor Strange is a beautiful film. It’s a masterpiece of aesthetics, but the visuals also contribute to the story to make for a breathtaking and different comic book movie experience that’s a ton of fun.
— Camden McDonald