Movie Review: ‘Doctor Strange’ (Second Opinion)



Plot:  Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a world-class neurosurgeon.  Arrogant, rich, and dismissive of those who believe in anything other than science, Strange’s life is turned upside down when an accident causes irreparable damage to his hands.  Desperate, Strange eventually travels to Nepal and seeks out The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a mystic he hopes will help heal his hands.  However, when Strange’s long-held beliefs are challenged by the seemingly unbelievable powers that The Ancient One and Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) possess, he’s drawn into a world he never imagined was possible.  With the help of his new found talents and the assistance of fellow doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), Strange must stop The Ancient One’s former student Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) before he unleashes Dormammu, a being from the Dark Dimension that exists outside of time.*

*Honestly is that not the geekiest, most comicbook-esque plot description ever?

Read Gfunk’s review here!


Review:  In the 1971-72 NBA season the Los Angeles Lakers won thirty-three consecutive games at one point, a record that still stands to this day.  As one month passed and then two, people began to wonder if the team was ever going to lose.  That’s the way I’ve begun to feel with Marvel movies.  I keep waiting for them to fail but it just doesn’t happen.  Doctor Strange continues Marvel’s hot streak, delivering another impressive if familiar superhero origin story.

This time around director Scott Derrickson takes a seat in the engineer’s chair of the Marvel train.  A director known mostly for his horror work (Sinister, Hellraiser: Inferno), Derrickson brings a distinct, quirky flair to Doctor Strange that somehow melds with the Marvel recipe.  It’s a perfect marriage of atypical director with an atypical superhero.  Let’s face it, Dr. Stephen Strange is a pretty unknown commodity when it comes to superheroes.  I knew virtually nothing about the character going into the film and I doubt many casual fans did either.  Yet just like they did with characters Ant-Man and Thor, Marvel takes an obscure character and brings him into the spotlight.


However, it is key to point out that the producers dwelling in the Ivory Avengers Tower have never dealt with a character like Strange before.  This is really the first time Marvel Studios have dipped their toes into the realm of magic.  (Unless you count Thor.) And yes you can make the claim that sorcerers like Strange and Mordo actually harness energy from other dimensions to perform various actions, but don’t let that throw you.  This is magic, plain and simple.  Yet Doctor Strange doesn’t shy away from the inherent trippiness of the environment (Strange was a superhero that came of age in the 1970s after all, where drugs and flashy clothes were standard) but embraces it in all its glory.  Whether it’s the glorious color palette, the mind-bending fight scenes reminiscent of Inception, or teleportation through worm holes created by “sling rings,” Derrickson and company go all in.

Strangely enough (see what I did there?) the fact that Doctor Strange is another familiar superhero origin story, doesn’t negatively impact the film.  You’d think at this point audiences would be dog tired of origin stories, but Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill’s script manages to make an old pattern seem fresh.  In fact I’d argue that the writing duo has created the most contemplative and deepest Marvel movie to date.  Topics like Eastern medicine, the power of the mind, science versus mysticism, astral projection, and the multiverse theory are heavy subject material.  Yet the exposition doesn’t come across as didactic or laborious.  And with Doctor Strange clocking in at just under two hours, Derrickson manages to keep the pace quick and on point.

Marvel’s success I fully believe coincides with the talent they’ve been able to attract.  If you look back at the lexicon of movies since the MCU began in 2008, there are a TON of Oscar nominees or winners in these films, including Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, and Robert Downey Jr, to name three.  Doctor Strange continues that trend as Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, and Chiwetel Ejiofor are all previous Academy Award nominees, with Tilda Swinton actually having won one for Michael Clayton.  Each brings their A game to Strange.  Ejiofor ostensibly befriends Strange but is worried about his cavalier way of breaking the rules, feeling it will lead him down Kaecilius’ path.  McAdams is solid as Strange’s friend and ex-lover Teresa, alternately resenting Strange for his coldness and pitying him for the struggles he’s gone through.  Derrickson took a lot of flak for casting Swinton in the Ancient One role but she kills it here.  Swinton balances the intense physicality and philosophical aspects of The Ancient One with a biting wit.  There’s an even tempered emotional tone to Swinton’s performance that reinforces how truly “ancient” The Ancient One is.


None of this works without a strong leading man and Cumberbatch is definitely that.  He’s very good if not quite great at the role, sporting a believable American accent.  Cumberbatch pulls off Strange’s arrogance and condescension well, while also managing to humanize him once his tragic accident occurs.  As Strange grows and develops, so too does Cumberbatch’s performance.  We literally see Strange ascend to hero status before our eyes, as he sees how being  Sorcerer Supreme will benefit the world more than being a simple neurosurgeon.  Many have compared his portrayal/character to Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, but I don’t see it. Other than the fact that they are both wealthy and arrogant, each has their own distinct personality and path.  It will be interesting to see how Cumberbatch grows into the role in the inevitable sequel to Doctor Strange and his undoubted appearances in future Avengers movies.


If Doctor Strange has one fault it’s the villain, something Marvel has had recent issues with.  I love Mads Mikkelsen and while his Kaecilius was entertaining, it was a very two dimensional character.  I would like to  have seen his character more fully developed.  Dormammu meanwhile is in the film for the length of a cup of coffee.  Strange’s one interaction with Dormammu (also played by Cumberbatch) is seriously cool but the character itself kind of resembled Grimace from McDonald’s come to life as a black light.

However, while Marvel as a whole may have a villain problem, it doesn’t make Doctor Strange any less entertaining.  The strong cast, phenomenal special effects, tight script, and fast pace all make for another exciting entry into the Marvel canon that will please studio execs and fans a like.  It’s not Civil War but man is Doctor Strange a blast.


My rating:  8/10

Would I:  A) Buy this movie B) Accept as a gift C) Burn on site  Answer: A

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