Doctor Strange Review [SPOILER FREE]

After a seemingly never ending wait, I finally got to see Doctor Strange yesterday, today (and again next week!) As you can assume from my specialist profession of praising Marvel, I loved it, but we’re gonna get into the reasons why it was another knock out solo origin movie. At this point, the MCU isn’t shy of solo origin movies so it’s essential that they keep them fresh and different. How do you turn the superhero formula into something unique every time? Well, by changing the definition of course. Yes, there’s countless superhero movies, but the key is giving each one a different vibe/genre, and I feel Doctor Strange is perhaps the best example of that.

The film centers around arrogant neurosurgeon, Stephen Strange and how karma can be a b*tch basically! After mangling his precious surgeon hands in a car accident, he’s left with multiple metal plates and severe nerve damage, making him unable to steady them, thus making him unable to use the precision required for his job. He goes from cocky, to a self-pitying hollow-man, desperate to mend the damage. It’s only when his key to success is taken from him, he realizes what little use he has in the world, causing him to frantically drain himself as well as his bank account in search of a fix. With nowhere left to turn, he discovers Kamar-Taj in Nepal, where he meets the Ancient One. After his encounter with the all-powerful, his arrogance soon metamorphs into selflessness as he learns the mystic arts and fights against those who threaten not only the existence of the universe, but all universes.

What I thought of the story:
Like I said in the summary, the movies villain is capable of messing with multiple universes and dimensions, which is a higher tier of stakes to what we’re used to. Yes, we’ve seen numerous times an Avenger saving the world at most… but with someone as powerful as Kaecilius it allows the story to have more of a danger level to what we’re used to. In terms of the story, it was essentially a psychedelic roller coaster with pit stops of drama, which is exactly what I expect with a Doctor Strange movie. The film doesn’t waste much time to flip Stephen’s world (and his perception of it) upside down, which is good, because when you’re this deep into a movie franchise, people just want to see the development from man/woman to hero with no diversions. So in terms of pacing, I was pleasantly surprised. Once the story introduces us to the weird and wonderful, it never leaves. In other words, once you’re made aware that magic exists, prepare to literally “forget everything you think you know”. I’ll use the first Thor movie for an example; This film was the first in the MCU to introduce the cosmic side of things. I was excited to see Asgard and the other realms, and perhaps I expecting the movie to stay ‘up there’, when instead, it was set on Earth for about 80% of it. This is an example of when the movie has access to the ‘new’ and ‘different’, but decides to ground itself too much. Doctor Strange on the other hand stays firmly centered around the magic and doesn’t restrict the audience of what they could be experiencing, which is what I thought the first Thor movie kinda did. Does that make sense? I’m saying that now they’ve introduced magic, they thankfully didn’t hold back!

You can strip or put aside the magic segments of the story and you still have a compelling clash against good and evil. The thing is, good and evil is ultimately a point of view and there’s some parts in this film which provoke certain twists to your perception. Making elements/themes like this not black and white helps keep the story interesting for me. However, we’re talking about a magical movie, so let’s talk about the fun stuff! I appreciated the fact that the movie didn’t hold back on the ‘nerdyness’. Relics, weapons, books, characters from the comics are often mentioned, as well as some being rather integral to the outcome of the plot. I won’t say what or who pops up obviously, but if you felt like some MCU solo/origin films played it a little too safe with lore etc, don’t worry. Not to scare away casual fans and movie-goers, nothing is confusing, there isn’t any parts to the story telling that expects you to do homework assignments. All types of audience are welcomed warmly into the world of Doctor Strange. Even if you’d never heard of him, you’ll leave the cinema with enough knowledge and hype to get you craving a sequel, and to see him feature in other films. Another thing I loved about the film was Scott Derrickson and everyone else involved in the film having the ability to turn the implausible plausible as well as blend it into a fun, adventurous journey with dynamic arcs for all characters.

What I thought of the characters:
So in terms of character arcs… Wow, wow, wow! Okay, the main superhero is always going to be the main focus obviously, but this film gives all the main characters their own dynamic and fulfilling A to B journey. The supporting cast didn’t feel so easily labelled ‘secondary’ to me either – I feel like everyone shone in their own way. Doctor Strange entering the Kamar-Taj as well as Kaecilius’ villainous actions shook the other characters and sent them all on interesting paths. Of course, let’s start with the Doc himself. Stephen Strange, at first is a manifestation of what’s wrong with the world. He’s an arrogant, selfish man who doesn’t think before speaking. His words are relentless and he doesn’t mind who he offends with them. He couldn’t care less about the lives he saves, only the applause (and money) afterwards. It’s okay being skilled and gifted, don’t get me wrong, but if you’re achieving solely for ego then what the hell is your problem, dude?! Doesn’t seem like hero material huh? Thankfully, like I said in the summary, his situation is dramatically altered, and his fame is somewhat tarnished. Although there are physical wounds, you can tell his loss of recognition is the thing that hurts the most. He’s a funny guy, but you can tell that he tries too hard to be the funniest guy in the room, which I assume usually worked for him at the hospital or at conferences. This makes him stand out like a sore thumb among the training sorcerers, causing him to seem out of place, thus forcing him to mold into what the Ancient One expects. Once the bigger picture is revealed, he slowly appreciates the mystic arts and puts his quest of healing his hands aside. No longer about ego, he finally dons the famous Cloak of Levitation and does things for the right reasons. His voyage is an enduring one, but he deserved every hard knock along the way for sure. The transition doesn’t seem forced or abrupt either, there’s fine lines between the right and wrong choice on which he rests upon until certain things happen. I remember a few years ago when they announced a Doctor Strange movie and I instantly thought that the best person would be Benedict Cumberbatch! I feel like there’s always actors destined for certain roles, so much so that you couldn’t possibly think of someone better. Some examples for me are Robert Downey as Iron-Man, and John Bernthal as The Punisher in the Netflix shows. Secondly… I think there’s good actors that ‘act’, and then there’s great actors that completely encapsulate and transform themselves into a character. The main cast as a whole accomplished this!

Next I’d like to talk about The Ancient One. Tilda Swinton nailed it! I thought she was going to act like an all-powerful, harsh, cliche kind of Jedi Master, but she was so humanized. She was inquisitive about Doctor Strange and only wanted what was best for him overall, and also funnier/quirkier than I was expecting too. She was still a badass when it was needed though. Like most of the supporting cast in this film, there’s more to them than meets the eye, which is why this films cast is probably my favorite so far in the MCU. There’s a lot of mystery that shrouds her, and that’s expected of someone known only as The Ancient One, but you eventually get to watch her unravel as the film progresses. Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, Strange’s love interest, is more than the simple girl for the hero to share a kiss with.She’s got some important duties in the movie and you can expect that their relationship is somewhat complicated. She’s the person that grounds Doctor Strange when there’s so much crazy going on, which is key to maintaining that ‘only human’ element whilst us an audience are spiraling around this kaleidoscopic mind trip. I feel sorry for her, having to put up with such a *ahem* as Stephen, but his appreciation for Christine is eventually brought forward, but it’s her resilience as not only a great nurse, but her ability to endure Strange’s day to day annoyance… it earns her a lot of respect.

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo though… out of everyone’s amazing performances, I have to award him with best supporting role. He was down-right awesome as Mordo! The character himself was interesting and engaging, and a valuable ally to Strange. It’s hard to talk about him without going into spoilers which is a shame, but if you’re familiar with the comics, you’ll know what aspect of him I’m wanting to talk about. Let’s just say that if you do know what I’m wanting to talk about, it’s done well and I feel like this will make him one of the more memorable side characters in the franchise. Sorry, non-comicbook readers, I’m back. What can I say without spoiling anything? He’s strong mentally and physically, he’s a helpful companion… his accent is cool too! Mordo is a great example of excellent character development. Before I talk about the villain, I want to mention Wong, played by Benedict Wong… Yes, you read that right, two Benedicts in one film, who of which has the second name of the character he’s playing… Destiny perhaps? I love this actor a lot and I welcome him into the MCU with much delight. If you don’t know what Wong was like in the comics, well he wasn’t much more than a man servant to Doctor Strange, fetching tea and defending every now and then. I like the more honorable use/version of the character, and I feel like they’ve really altered him for the better, making him a badass bookkeeper and drill sergeant who you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of. He’s the likable stern character that you need in every film to knock the untouchable main character down a few pegs. He’s also the main source of exposition as you’re always learning more of the mystical world every time he speaks, which never feels forced might I add. In all films, characters provide exposition. Sometimes it seems out of place or too perfect to be in a conversation. Not all movies do it well, but the characters in Doctor Strange did it in captivating ways, often making me want to ask for more.

Finally, let’s talk about Kaecilius. I think you’ll find that if most people have something to complain about regarding Marvel movies is that their villains aren’t on par with the heroes. Okay, since when was this a rule anyway? I think that since people have ever said that, everyone else has blindly agreed and assumed without actually just sitting back and appreciating the villains for what they are. Whether or not the villain is on par with the hero physically or mentally are factors that shouldn’t necessarily be considered in my opinion. The thing that should matter is that the definition of antagonist is achieved as well as possible. You have to remember, these are 2 hour films introducing not only a new hero, but a whole new dynamic and branch. Those who say Loki is the only good villain, get over it! It’s because he’s featured in more than one film. I bet if he’d have died at the end of the first Thor movie people wouldn’t like him as much. It’s the same reason people seem to enjoy the Netflix villains more, because the shows literally have 13 hours to develop them. The key when it comes to the movies is to develop the villains as much as possible and make sure they’re entertaining, but no one should expect a solo/origin movie to have a villain that has just as much screen time and development as the main character! The story is primarily about the hero, not the villain. With this in mind, I make sure I review and appreciate the bad guys for what they are and what they bring to the film. So, in terms of the zealot Kaecilius, I feel that he’s one of my favorite villains for sure! A villain will always be against the heroe, but when they have compelling reasons and feel like they’re saving the world in their own way, it makes them a higher tier antagonist. Bad guys that don’t consider themselves bad guys and see the good guys as bad guys are good bad guys! It makes the audience sit on the fence and empathize with both sides more when each faction is trying to save the world their own ways. Mads Mikklesen brought a rather unknown comicbook villain to life with ease, because it’s Mads Mikklesen. Just look at that man’s face, he could play a flowery fairy god mother and turn it into a villain. What I’m trying to say is that whatever bad guy you cast him as, he’s going to do it well by default. But I also like how Marvel turned Kaecilius into a big deal, allowing them to save the more famous threats for future films. With that said, Kaecilius is now a more famous threat thanks to this movie. He’s a man with a plan who has understandable reasons to be doing the things he’s doing, hit heavily with past pain and fueled by a discovery and revelation that only him and his followers are aware of. What more could you ask from a villain? He’s a great contender for Strange, and probably the best choice for him to go against in his first film because he gives Stephen a good example of what to expect when fighting multi-dimensional crime. A good villain also inflicts something onto the hero, forcing them to change or become something greater so that they can overcome and better their foe, and I can happily say Kaecilius does that. His intrigue and yearning to know more was his catalyst that set him on his path, so what difference is there between him and the good guys? So you can thankfully rest easy, knowing that it’s not the usual, “Destroy the world because I’m evil, I want ALL the power,” job. There’s also more forces at play which I won’t mention because spoilers but it helps you understand Kaecilius’ reasonings more.

What I thought of the visuals:
You can probably imagine that I’ve been dying to get to this part of the review. It’s a nice breath of fresh air to talk about something so unconventional visually when it comes to the mise-en-scene and action sequences. The great thing about the impossibilities being endless is that the VFX can build what the hell they want, allowing the story to traverse through incredibly complicated and colorful environments. The first time I watched, I primarily kept my eye mainly on the characters in frame as you do, however when I watched again, I made sure to look more at the backgrounds and the things going on around them… and it’s so detailed. There’s things folding, deconstructing, duplicating constantly all over the place and it’s overwhelmingness makes it all the more jaw dropping. And that’s just one scene! We as humans are limited to five senses, and only two of which are in play when it comes to watching a movie, so the director skillfully fed our eyes and ears the best he could, pushing them to the limits by sending the audience on a colorful and mind boggling trip beyond comprehension.

There’s plenty of magical scenes in the film, not just one or two ‘stand-out’ scenes. The best way to put it is that every scene stood out, therefore I can’t think of a favorite moment, which is a good thing. I like how not only are we seeing crazy and complex cinematic moments, but they were also able to implement action and fighting inside of them, as the characters use the ever-changing landscapes to the best of their abilities whilst traversing them and kicking butt. So theirs the first hurdle of how to direct such a difficult scene, and then you have the secondary challenge of adding combat inside of them! If you’re a fan of the how odd the comic books looked then prepare for justice to be served. The best thing about anything being possible is that the novelty will be impossible to ware off, and I’m already thinking of what kind of weird stuff they could construct for the future of the Doctor Strange’s franchise.

My final thoughts:
The fact that this movie exists and the fact that it was a success warms my heart. The sheer ambition of bringing the world of magic to life in a seemingly grounded, scientific-based universe earned my respect even before I watched the movie! I like to watch things more than once before I reach a verdict because the first time I watch something, it’s mainly excitement and awe. The second time I know what to expect and I can sit back and enjoy the movie for what it is, and I actually enjoyed it more on the second viewing! It’s such a spectacle to watch that it’s one of those films that you can watch over and over again and still feel like you’re watching something new and unique, because it is. It’s the most different and refreshing movie in the franchise yet, and I feel that the only film that could beat it in this category is a Doctor Strange 2.

As a standalone movie it also kicks ass, and I feel like it deserves its own genre. It’d be hard to get this film mixed up with any other ones is what I’m saying! It’s a great example of not playing things safe. If production companies sit back and wait for other studios to take risks like crash test dummies then nothing new would ever come forth, because no one would dare make the first move. It’s Scott Derrickson and his determined vision we should be thanking, as well as Marvel giving him the opportunity to bring perhaps their most risky and challenging character to life. I hope this film is merely an introduction and that there’s plenty more trippy adventures that follow. To wrap things up I’d just like to say thanks for reading and if you haven’t watched it yet, what are you waiting for? I’d happily open up a portal to your nearest cinema for you but I lost my Sling Ring.

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