Just when you think that Kevin Feige and his team at Marvel Studios can’t surely raise the bar any higher for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Doctor Strange certainly does all that and more, bringing together a whole new chapter in where the MCU can go in terms of scope and storytelling. I like to compare this development to what happened with Guardians of the Galaxy. It felt completely different to everything we had seen before within this wide universe of characters and went about to add a whole new layer of ideas and how it all connects. Doctor Strange takes it even further with the addition of magic, the spiritual realm, multi-verses and the ability to bend space and time.
Looking at Stephen Strange as a character, along with the arc he takes, it’s not too dissimilar to the one Tony Stark had undertook back at the very beginning. Only this time I feel we had a much better character and a better understanding of the morals they had to learn and overcome. Strange begins as a very over-confident and selfish character. He brings good to the world by saving lives but only when it is convenient to him. The harder the challenge the better the thrill is for him, as well as the credit he receives for his extraordinary abilities as a neurosurgeon. I think what made him a more interesting character was there wasn’t a distinct bad-side to him like with Tony. You understood that he had his weaknesses and these elements made him lesser as an overall person but you still appreciated him and felt engaged with his story.
It wasn’t a typical narrative in which the selfish character stops being selfish by being selfless. It’s much more complicated than that. Strange becomes physically and mentally impaired and has to confront a lot of inner demons as well as adapt to the strange new world he has been put within. It is a massive blow to his character after the crash. He is unable to do the very thing that makes him who he is and this renders him powerless. He takes a rather selfish downslide as he becomes frustrated after countless surgeons are unable to fix his hands. It’s a truly brutal moment witnessing his despair unleashed on his friend Christine Palmer. She wished to support him in his time of need only to be met with a cold-hearted speech that ended their relationship.
The film becomes a different entity entirely once we are introduced to The Ancient One. The traditional MCU origins story went out the window as we were introduced to the world of magic and alternate universes. It was such a spectacular moment and beautifully delivered. You became as shocked and amazed as Strange, wanting to delve further into this new realm of ideas and possibilities. Naturally the narrative went on to a section where Strange trained to use the different mystical arts, but naturally isn’t able to do it at first due to his mentality. His broken hands blocked his imagination and thus crushed his progression. I liked how The Ancient One continuously tested his spirit and attempted to pull out the man within, like when she teleported him to Mount Everest and forced him to become one with his spiritual nature in order to get back.
What was also nice were the side-characters of Karl Mordo and Wong. Each of them act as a mentor and friend to Strange and help him in his journey to find himself. Mordo is a mentor in the physical sense and helps him to train whilst Wong, the protector of the Library, teaches him about the different elements within the mystic arts and the history of their ways. Mordo in many ways becomes Strange’s right-hand man, with them both needing the other in combat and ultimately learn from one another. It’s a nice steady progression of friendship through respect, similar to Tony and Rhodes. What I liked the most was when Mordo’s philosophy was tested after Strange introducing him to the reality of The Ancient One and this truly changes his character and beliefs. This strong friendship becomes tainted by the end of the film and Mordo ultimately walks down a line that certainly shocked me (as I really didn’t see it coming), ultimately leaving open some intriguing story-arcs for future movies.
I did like how they managed to create a strong female character through changing The Ancient One’s gender. I am not a firm believer of changing character’s genders for the sake of it but here it was utilised for the best possible usage. Tilda Swinton played the role well and always came across as this ancient being full of wisdom and strength. Different scenes demonstrated this, with the action scenes at the beginning and near the end showing us her abilities and how she can easily gain the upper hand through hand-to-hand combat and bending reality, whilst the training scenes showed off her knowledge and understanding of people in order to help find themselves.
There was a great story-arc of development between Strange and The Ancient One. There relationship was back and forth, with The Ancient One not believing in him to begin with, Strange being unable to follow her teachings and going off on his own against her instructions, to later on Strange going against her once he learnt the source of her immortality. It was great to have their arc end on a developed note as Strange speaks with her in the Astral-plane where he finally comes to understand her and ultimately himself.
The MCU is known for creating a lot of one-dimensional villains or villains that don’t develop to their fullest potential (with Loki being the main exception and most popular) but in Doctor Strange we did get a villain that was actually rather good. Kaecilius at first looks to be a villain wanting higher power after he went against The Ancient One to learn the forbidden arts. But as the narrative went on you learnt that his reasoning was rather complex. It wasn’t a selfish reason he wanted to learn immortality through channelling from the Dark Dimensions, but rather to see a new world created where death wasn’t a possibility. It was a scenario were he wanted a good thing via doing a bad thing but the results would’ve possibly meant a better future, one that even Strange had a moment of hesitation about.
Though Kaecilius, and his followers, formulated the main threat throughout the film they are in fact merely puppets for the actual threat. Dormammu is as dangerous as they come, a being that is feared throughout the multi-verses and presented as one of the most powerful beings in the MCU. Thanos doesn’t seem to be much of a threat now that Dormammu has been introduced and comes close to controlling Earth via the actions of his brain-washed followers. Its presence alone is enough to display that the MCU has been dealt its greatest threat and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it will become a major adversary down the line, with Doctor Strange simply introducing the basics of its character.
It is a grand moment when Strange finally does begin to master his powers and makes a progression towards becoming Sorcerer Supreme. His battle with his own weakness takes a lot longer than you would think and it isn’t until the third act Strange really embraces his destiny and takes up the mantle of hero, although that is putting it quite lightly when you take into account he is now the protector of all the dimensions. Strange has many moments of doubts, within himself and within his calling and at one point nearly decides to throw everything away just so he can use the mystic arts to regain his old life, the very thing he wanted in the first place. It all becomes a massive journey of discovery and every step of the way is a massive test for Strange and it becomes the most progressive Superhero origins story up till now because you truly believed Strange had naturally evolved into the hero and made radical decisions to get there.
One of the best elements of this film is the ideas and scope involved, and how magnificently the special effects bring these to life. The way we are shown the multi-verses, the way we see the characters create energy for weapons and shields, the way we see them teleport through location to location, the way we see them bend reality itself was all so amazing to watch. It really did feel like we were watching a completely different film to all the others before in the MCU and that was why it was so impressive because it was the same universe and you knew that these elements were going to reshape and expand the universe in a way never before thought possible. It was great to see Strange don the Cloak of Levitation and the Eye of Agamotto and use them to his advantage. The most impressive moment was how Strange used time to literally win the day in one of the most impressive spectacles of any Superhero conclusion.
Another element that took me by surprise was the comedy. Marvel Studio films are known for their comedy but Doctor Strange reaches new heights in how it can make you laugh. In the most serious of situations the jokes came up and they weren’t cringe-worthy or feel out of a place, it felt so natural within this film about magic and dimensions. One of the best moments that made my cinema scream with laughter was when the Cloak of Levitation prevented Strange from reaching an axe and was dragging him backwards despite Strange’s best efforts to move forward.
Another part was Strange’s attempts to make Wong laugh throughout the film, which he finally succeeds at the very end when he laughs at Strange’s victory (a moment out of nowhere but is made funnier because of the jokes that came before and built this moment up). Strange and Wong had the most laughs, especially when Wong seemed clueless as to who Beyoncé was and yet was listening to her in the next scene whilst Strange teleported his arms in and out of the Library to steal books, one from right under Wong’s nose, whilst Wong was clueless to what was going on.
All in all, this was an amazing film and is without a doubt a “Must-See-Film!” I don’t know what else I can add to this wonderful new addition to the MCU. Oh wait, I’ve got one. Benedict Cumberbatch! The man is a legend and just knows how to give a spot-on performance. I thought Sherlock was made just for him, well now it turns out this film was made for him also. Every scene he is in evaluates because of his presence and he hits every kind of moment with perfection, whether it be a serious moment, a comedy moment, even down to the way he’s mastered how to deliver the movement of his hands in order to cast spells. Essentially, he is Doctor Strange, right down to the look.
Doctor Strange raises the bar in ways we couldn’t prepare ourselves for in terms of characters, perfect casting, story/character development, tone, direction and special effects and editing. All the elements come together perfectly to create what I’m now calling “my new favourite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie”. Sorry Captain America: The Winter Soldier, you’ve finally been beaten. And before anyone says, Guardians of the Galaxy was my original close-second. I may have to do a ranking system for the MCU one day, but until then, please (I implore you!) go now and watch this film because you will not regret it. As for the Americans, hold on a little bit longer because the wait, I promise you, will be worth it.
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