Doctor Strange hit theaters this weekend and signifies the first standalone Marvel film of a new property since Captain America (2011). Seeing as Guardians of the Galaxy was a self-contained ensemble film and Ant-Man was in production since before Ironman (2008), I’m not including them with Ironman, Thor, and Captain America. Additionally, seeing as how Marvel Phase 3 is going to be filled with new films like this – Black Panther, Spider-Man Homecoming and Captain Marvel – this was our first change to see how far Marvel has come with it inaugural film debuts. So how did the film do?
In short: Visually speaking, Doctor Strange has no equals in the MCU at the moment. That being said, whereas it’s solid story-wise, there’s quite a few moments that could have used flushing out more and seem pressed for time – which you’ll realize as ironic once you see the film.
Though I could never sum up a film like this so briefly. So allow me to give you a SPOILER FREE look at Doctor Strange and what worked, what didn’t and what was just…. there.
A Visual Masterpiece – Fight Scenes, Magic & Multiverse:
We’ve seen massive Chitauri battles over Manhattan, hellicarriers crash into the Potomac, Nova Corps in combat and hordes of androids fight on a floating continent – and yet none of that compares to the visuals in Doctor Strange. The reality bending and mirror dimensions are so crisp, they make Inception look like they were shot on an iPhone. Though the visual don’t end there and various magical spells, enhanced objects and dark dimensions all help push this film to the max in terms of scale and color.
I’ll admit that going into the film I was afraid it was going to be one crazy blur of bright colors and flashing lights – like Michael Bay on LSD. I was thankfully proven very wrong as the effects are somehow grand and yet not once over the top. Each effect feels like it has purpose rather than being there purely for spectacle. That being said, I might advise against seeing it in 3D. With all the reality bending and magic battles, 3D might give you a headache if you have sensitive eyes.
Humor & Characters – A Surprising Highlight:
I can’t really go into a lot of the humor of this film – because that would be spoilers – but I can tell you that the humor in this film is particularly enjoyable. Cumberbatch’s delivery of Strange is as comedic as it is brilliant, but if you’ve seen him as Sherlock you already knew that. Strange likes to be the center of attention and his showboating and insulting humor is spot on. His interactions with Wong are particularly enjoyable; but it is actually Swinton’s Ancient One who offers the best comedic relief. … Really.
As if Swinton’s casting as The Ancient One wasn’t surprising enough, he use of humor is possibly the biggest surprise. She chooses her words very carefully and not a single line of hers is wasted. The juxtaposition of the all-knowing Ancient One against the doubting and clueless Strange is quite enjoyable. There’s even a veiled joke about the unorthodox casting. And I understand why Marvel did this surprise casting – to attract people and because the era in which these characters were originally developed caused them to be soaked in stereotypes. It doesn’t make the choice perfect, but Swinton does do a great job in the role.
And while we’re on the subject of stereotypes, the character of Wong is incredibly well crafted. He’s not a sidekick and he’s definitely not a manservant, but rather an extremely talented sorcerer who knows far more than he lets on. Wong (played by Benedict Wong) is one of the real highlights of this film and he owns every scene he’s in – even when paired with Cumberbatch.
A Lack of Explanation – But Not Where You Think:
When we first saw Thor, “magic” was largely explained as science that we haven’t yet figured out. This time around in Doctor Strange, that notion is completely out the window. As a man of science, Stephen strange obviously struggles with a lot of this but ultimately just learns to believe. As a film that introduces magic proper along with dimension bending and multiverse, this is a stance the audience has to take too as far as ‘understanding magic’ goes. Though it’s actually pulled off perfectly. Not once do you feel “that magic didn’t make sense to me” as you get so caught up in the ride and the small explanations they do give. As far as the wondrous world of magic and realities are concerned, this film explained just what it needed to and left the rest to our imagination. Sadly, the same can’t be said for storylines and pacing.
This is not to say that the story has a lot missing from it, but there are definite moments where you will feel that something could have been elaborated on more. You will see motivations and can gather a guess as to why this character has them, but they are never fully explained. There is one particularly powerful moment between Strange and Mordo where Stephen expressing a sentiment that we have not seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet – and it’s a TREMENDOUS moment – and yet it’s just said and that’s it. There’s no explanation of why he feels that way or even why he truly became a doctor.
In the comics and animated movie, this was answered with backstory about his family and sister. Here it largely just seems like a man trying to prove himself for the sake of proving himself. Again, this doesn’t take away from the film completely; but there will be times where you feel something could have been explained deeper or you missed some key backstory moment.
Similarly, the pacing and timeline is a little strange as the events of the film from Strange’s perspective and those of the villains can’t possibly match up. It’s unclear if Strange’s rise and fall happened THAT fast or if the villains literally sat on their hands for several months. I can believe in magic, multiverses and alternate realities. What I can’t believe is that as huge and threatening an opening Kaecilius gets, it takes him almost 2/3rds of Strange’s origin story to begin enacting his plans.
Post Credits & Easter Eggs:
As with any Marvel film, there’s of course two post credits scenes (Mod Credits and Post Credits to be exact). Additionally throughout the film there are some very well hidden Easter Eggs; but of course as this is a Spoiler Free Review I won’t go into those. Instead, I’ll save those explanations for my upcoming Top 5 article. So stay tuned for my Closer Look and in the meantime, Go See Doctor Strange!