“Doctor Strange” is the 14th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it ranks as the most unique and distinctive film in Marvel Studios’ lineup. From the visuals on screen to the super powers in play, “Doctor Strange” makes a paradigm shift in how visuals augment storytelling in film. In watching “Doctor Strange,” both superhero and film fans alike experience a film unlike any other that has come before.
“Doctor Strange” tells the story of the titular character, Doctor Stephen Strange, a world-renowned neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands after a severe car crash. After trying every possible procedure, he comes across people in Nepal who can help him cure his hands, but it turns out they are an ancient group of sorcerers who have long defended Earth from interdimensional threats. Strange joins the masters of the mystic arts, and the film chronicles his journey from a broken neurosurgeon to the sorcerer supreme.
The cast in “Doctor Strange” is absolutely fantastic and features some of Hollywood’s most elite talent. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the titular hero, Doctor Strange, and his ability to channel Strange’s arrogance while also presenting an underlying wit is what drives the narrative of the film. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Karl Mordo, a fellow student of the mystic arts with Strange. Ejiofor’s Mordo strictly adheres to the principles of the mystic arts and provides the film a character that mirrors that of Strange.
Mordo is strict and humble yet willing to accept realities he cannot understand, while Strange‘s arrogance, rebellious nature and reliance of science provide the film a secondary level of tension beyond the main plot of the film. The leader of the mystic arts is the Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton. Her character is calm and essentially all knowing, which again helps to bring about perspective in a film as unique as “Doctor Strange.”
The oft-stated uniqueness of this film derives from the visual effects. I can definitively say that no film has ever looked like “Doctor Strange.” In many parts of the film, the effects would be reminiscent of gazing through a kaleidoscope while touring a house of mirrors. The visuals are beautiful, scary, and absolutely revolutionary.
The trailers for the film seemed to evoke the visuals from “Inception,” but it would be more apt to relate the films visuals to “Inception” and the fourth-dimensional bedroom scene from “Interstellar” but magnified by 1,000.
“Doctor Strange” was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and the film stays about as true to Ditko’s original artwork as possible. The visual effects are etheric and constantly transforming from one state to one completely foreign from the previous.
One scene perfectly encapsulates the horror background of director Scott Derrickson as it will change the way you look at your hands. The best way, I think, to describe the way in which the visuals have upped the bar for future films is to say that if “Doctor Strange” is equal to the current graphical ability of video games today, then “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is the visual equivalent of “Super Mario Bros.” on the original Nintendo.
With all of that acclaim, the film does have its faults. The first and mildest criticism is of the film’s score. It isn’t a bad score, but it is eerily similar to that of the new “Star Trek” franchise, particularly “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” It seems almost as if director Scott Derrickson used the score for “Star Trek” as the temp music for “Doctor Strange” and then had his composer make something just different enough to avoid copyright violation. The music suits the mood of the film, but it did strike me as so similar that every time it came up, I kept thinking about the similarities.
Another criticism I have is about the overall character arc for Doctor Strange. His story, while different aesthetically, is similar in theme and execution to that of another MCU character: Tony Stark/Iron Man. The characters have very similar backstories and personality types, so similarities are to be expected, but part of me was hoping that Marvel Studios would change up some themes in order to give “Doctor Strange” just a bit more originality considering how similar most of the MCU films already are. This doesn’t ruin the film by any means, but it does draw pretty valid comparison.
The last criticism is one that I’ve had for almost every Marvel Cinematic Universe film, a weak villain. Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) is a former master of the mystic arts turned evil, and he is seeking to bring about the end of the world as we know it. It is a cliché film trope that has been used far too often by Hollywood and especially by Marvel Studios. That isn’t the issue with Marvel’s villains though, as Kaecilius, like most MCU villains, lacks depth. Marvel Studios has a problem when it comes to presenting meaningful villains, and “Doctor Strange” does not correct it.
“Doctor Strange” is a first-of-its-kind visual experience that really should be viewed by all film fans. Its plot is fairly basic, but the visual effects augment that story to give the audience a film experience unlike any other. The jaw dropping effects, however, cannot save this film from the all-too-common weak MCU villain.
At times Marvel Studios seems to be more interested in building toward the bigger story coming later than focusing on giving us the best narrative right now. That said, “Doctor Strange” is still very good and ravishingly fun. It changes the way visuals play a part in how we experience films.
I give “Doctor Strange” 8 / 10