MCU Ranked: ‘Doctor Strange’
Release Date: 2016
Director: Scott Derrickson
Heroes: Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch)
Villains: Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), Dormammu (Benedict Cumberbatch)
Support Cast: Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), Wong (Benedict Wong), Doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt), Doctor Nicodemus West (Michael Stuhlbarg), Lucian (Scott Adkins)
Cameos: Stan Lee, as usual, reading some Huxley on the bus. Plus Chris Hemsworth turns up in the end credits.
Plot: Brilliant but arrogant brain surgeon Dr. Stephen Strange causes a car crash and permanently damages his hands. In an effort to find a solution he seeks out Kamar-Taj when The Ancient One teaches him in the ways of sorcery.
Review: Here’s the central problem with Doctor Strange – he’s a reskinned Tony Stark. Arrogant billionaires at the forefront of their industry whose hubris forces them to question their role in the world and rebuild themselves as defenders of the status quo. One selected technology as a specialty, the other magic. The characters have so much in common in character and origin story that it’s hard to find the uniqueness of this new character.
The real selling point, for comic fans at least, is the introduction of magic and mystical elements in the MCU. In the comic universe science based superheroes live and fight alongside magic users and cosmic beings. The latter came to us by way of Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange is tasked with delivering all the exposition related to magic business. To this extent they do an impressively good job with Derrickson taking a ‘show don’t tell’ approach to material and using Strange as an entry point character for the audience.
To that extent the visuals and the effects used to bring them to life are impressive, borrowing heavily from the Steve Dikto years in the comic. Rather than shying away from the bold, surreal style of the comic’s heyday they they film has leaned into it with bright, colourful glyphs being summoned in the air in front of our sorcerers. The reality warping fight scenes never get boring to watch. They do name drop more artefacts, books and spells than we can keep up with but there’s no doubt a horde of fans who appreciate the attention to detail.
Amid all the exposition the villain of the piece gets a bit lost. Every time we want to write about Kaecilius we have to go and look up his name because he’s a generic comic book villain for the MCU. At a time when the villains were becoming something worth talking about this guy is very forgettable. Nothing to do with Mads Mikkelsen’s performance, just a busy script. And it’s hard to share a screen with the endlessly watchable Benedict Cumberbatch, even when he has a New York accent that slips in and out.
Plus a white woman is playing The Ancient One, that’s a bit of a problem. In all honesty Tilda Swinton does a good job and is clearly enjoying playing the character. Although Disney and Marvel have never said anything out loud it’s clear that this is to avoid damaging the Chinese box office by including a prominent Tibetan character in their blockbuster franchise. Possibly go as far as a white woman to distract from the politics behind it.
Doctor Strange doesn’t break any new ground in terms of story or character, but it’s a solid addition to the line-up and opens the doors to new concepts in the franchise. We’re looking forward to Mordo turning villain given his established relationship with the hero.
Credits Scene: The first is the most fun, with Dr. Strange meeting with Thor to talk about Odin and drink bottomless ale. At the time it felt like Strange was going to playing a big role in the next Thor adventure but it didn’t have a huge pay off.
The second sets up Mordo as a bad guy, attacking Pangborn and stealing his sorcerer powers. We’re hoping this goes somewhere interesting.
Most Notable Easter Egg: There’s endless nods to characters and artefacts from the comics but our favourite is the quick inclusion of an Asian sorcerer welding what is clearly the Staff of One from the ‘Runaways’ comic. This is possibly Tina Minoru learning her craft.
Coolest Moment: The introduction of Strange’s cloak. It has more personality than half the cast!
THE MCU MASTER LIST
As we outlined above it’s the mystical malarkey that makes the film. The generic origin story slots it in just above Age of Ultron.
Click those titles to see the original entries!
2. THE AVENGERS
3. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
9. IRON MAN
16. DOCTOR STRANGE
17. THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
19. IRON MAN 3
20. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
21. AGENTS OF SHIELD (SEASON 4)
23. AGENTS OF SHIELD (SEASON 3)
24. IRON MAN 2
25. AGENTS OF SHIELD (SEASON 2)
26. AGENTS OF SHIELD (SEASON 1)
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