Ever since Iron Man took the movie world by storm, Marvel has built one of the most consistent and entertaining movie franchises in the industry. They also did it in very different ways. Each movie was connected to this large, wonderful world, but each movie was also almost a member of a different genre.
Iron Man was a pure action movie. The Incredible Hulk was a monster movie. Thor was an epic fantasy. Captain America: The First Avenger was a war movie. They all then teamed up in The Avengers, which is the most unashamedly fun comic book movie ever made.
Since then, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a spy/espionage movie. Guardians of the Galaxy was space opera sci-fi. Ant-Man was a caper flick. And now there is Doctor Strange, a horror movie that brings the world of magic into the Marvel Movie Universe
This was a huge chance for Marvel to take, right up there with Guardians of the Galaxy, as no one outside of comic book fans have any idea who Doctor Stephen Strange even is. And while it is not as fun as Guardians, Doctor Strange is another huge success for Marvel and a gamble won by the house that Iron Man built.
This was a personal movie for my wife and I. Anyone who knows me, knows that my wife was in a car accident in May that almost killed her. She has nerve damage in her left arm and is trying to get it back to normal again so she can return to work. That made watching the first quarter of Doctor Strange hard for us both.
Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Dr. Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon who cares only about his own fame and success and has become incredibly successful and revered because of it. While Strange in the comic books starts off as an arrogant, egotistical jerk, he is mostly just self-absorbed in the movie.
Outside of an opening sequence that introduces us to the villain of the movie Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) fighting Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), most of the first quarter of this movie simply takes us into the world of Stephen Strange.
Doctor Strange is unlikeable but never unredeemable. He even has a love interest (Rachel McAdams’ Christine). However, she is really only window dressing that serves very little in the way of the plot outside of a pair of hospital scenes and a chance to show that someone in the world cares for Strange. Plus, she is an Easter egg.
However, it is when Strange is in the car accident that causes severe nerve damage in both of his hands that the movie really picks up.
When Marvel announced Doctor Strange, they had previously said that they were through with origin stories. That worried me because Doctor Strange has one of the best origin stories in comics. It is similar to that of Tony Stark (arrogant playboy almost dies and becomes a hero) but has its own nuances – mainly Strange really just wanting to get his old life back and his hands working again.
After Strange pulls every string he has and spends almost all his money to get his hands fixed, he learns of a man who was paralyzed and inoperable. He then heads out to learn how that man miraculously began to walk again. When Strange learns there is a mystical leader in Kamar-Taj that could cure him, he heads out to find his cure.
What Doctor Strange finds is instead his fate, his redemption, and his place in the universe.
Let’s talk about this mystic – The Ancient One.
In the comic books, The Ancient One is an old Asian man who is the current Sorcerer Supreme. When Marvel cast a white woman in Tilda Swinton to play The Ancient One, people on the Internet allowed their heads to explode. After watching Doctor Strange, I can see no one but Tilda Swinton in this role.
For one thing, it was daring and perfect to cast a woman in a role that a man originally represented. The fact that it was a woman who was the most powerful magician in the universe was as great decision. Sure, Swinton is not Asian, but she is one of the strangest otherworldly actors in the world – male or female – and really fit the role like a glove.
I also like the fact that the movie took the character of Wong – a stereotypical Asian servant to Strange in the comics – and made him a strong badass, someone who told Strange that he would kill him if need be and we all believed he was telling the truth. Benedict Wong is nothing like Wong in the comics and that makes him perfect casting in this role.
Benedict Cumberbatch was perfect casting as Doctor Strange as well. He proved in Sherlock that he could play a character like Strange, he has the perfect look for the role, and he just knocked it out of the park.
The casting of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo was also great. People who don’t read the comics have no idea the importance of Mordo in the world of Doctor Strange and I won’t go into it here to avoid spoilers. It is important to note that Mordo’s fate in the movie is altered from his role in Strange’s comic book origin story and that works well. That is because this is the origin story of both Doctor Strange and Mordo, as each man starts off with strong beliefs and each man is affected in differing ways by what transpires in this movie.
If there is a real complaint about the movie, it is the bad guy of Kaecilius. He is basically just another Marvel movie bad guy – really indistinguishable from someone like Guardian of the Galaxy’s Ronan. That is Marvel’s weakness – creating less than compelling villains. There is one Loki and everyone else is interchangeable. Of course, Thanos should change that.
Now, what makes Doctor Strange really separate itself from the rest of Marvel movies is the fact that it is nothing like any of the others (outside of a generic bad guy).
Whether it is evil millionaires, monsters, vengeful Gods, super villains, or even aliens, everything before this was explained in “normal” ways. In Doctor Strange, the mystical side of the Marvel Universe has been blown wide open.
In Thor, the God of Thunder explains that magic is just science that we humans don’t understand yet. The Ancient One says the same thing to Doctor Strange when she says that magic can be seen as programs that mystics have the keys to unlock and use as they wish. However, it is still magic, it takes place in a world that Iron Man could never deal with or understand, and places Doctor Strange on a whole new level from every superhero we have met, including Thor.
However, it is still real in the world of the movie. When the big final battle comes and Doctor Strange faces off with Dormammu, there are a couple of things to take note of here. First of all, Benedict Cumberbatch asked to motion capture Dormammu himself. The reasoning was because Dormammu has no shape and is what the person who sees him believes he should look like.
The CGI here was amazing and anyone who hated how the Fantastic Four movie dealt with Galactus should love how Doctor Strange dealt with Dormammu. Also, the world of Dormammu is almost pulled straight out of a biology book (as well as Steve Ditko’s classic art) and that makes sense too because Strange is a man of medicine. This entire dark world is what Strange envisions it to be.
This is a very real world behind the scenes and it is something that belongs wholly to Stephen Strange. That makes it more than just a mystical realm. It is just where Doctor Strange battles his enemies at, rather than the skies over New York or the streets of Hell’s Kitchen.
Even the scenes where Doctor Strange, Mordo, The Ancient One, and Wong battle enemies in the real world are still part of the Astral Plane. Anyone who has seen Inception has an idea of what to expect here as Strange and other magic users bend the real world to meet their needs while battling, yet nothing effects the real world outside of what might be seen as paranormal occurrences.
That is what makes director Scott Derrickson such a perfect choice for Doctor Strange. There were murmurs of discontent with his choice as the director but I was happy from the start. I enjoyed his work with shooting magic in The Exorcism of Emily Rose and thought Sinister was a solid horror movie. Both those traits played well in Doctor Strange. Derrickson directed the hell out of this movie and the CGI was top notch.
This is also a movie that brings a dark tone to Marvel – something that has been mostly light up until now. Sure, Tony Stark almost died battling aliens in The Avengers and suffered from PTSD in Iron Man 3. Captain America: Civil War had heroes fighting each other, a very dark topic that was still done with a light, deft hand.
However, Doctor Strange not only introduced magic into the Marvel Universe but it also really introduced the idea of death and mortality. Doctor Strange, despite his arrogance, refuses to kill unless he has to. Mordo explains that it is necessary but Strange wants to find another way.
This movie shows how even heroes can cheat death and how that is not something to take lightly. Doctor Strange breaks rules of magic in this movie to achieve the greater good and that includes a heartless moment that seems unusual for a hero. There is also a death that proves that no one can live forever.
Doctor Strange is a dark movie but it is also one that is full of hope. People who have complained that The Avengers and Superman have caused lots of collateral damage in their movies can see that Doctor Strange, in this movie, is the first that has the power to reverse those casualties. He just has to break major rules of time and space to do it. Doctor Strange has the power to chance the entire Marvel movie universe.
The Marvel world now has its most powerful superhero in existence.
At the end of the day, Doctor Strange continued Marvel’s track record of taking the source material and creating something that was both spiritually faithful to the comics and different enough to update it for today’s world of movie-going entertainment.
I have been a Doctor Strange fan since I was a kid thanks mostly to his role in The Defenders comics and often enjoyed his forays into a mystical world that was very different from the world of Spider-Man and The Avengers. When it comes to the Doctor Strange movie, I remain a fan as well.
This really isn’t, in my opinion, a top four Marvel movie like some are calling it, but it is still better than most action movies and fantasy movies out there right now – comic book related or not. I can’t wait to see what is next for Doctor Strange and feel that Marvel has found the perfect leading man for the next era of the Marvel Universe as the first wave of heroes prepares to ride off into the sunset.
Trailers Before Doctor Strange
Logan, Wonder Woman, Power Rangers, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – This is the Logan trailer that was online for a few weeks now, the brand new Wonder Woman trailer, and the first Power Rangers trailer. This is the first time I have seen this new Guardians of the Galaxy 2 movie trailer.
Here is the Doctor Strange trailer itself:
Doctor Strange Post-Credit Scenes
There are two post-credit scenes. The first is midway through and sets up one of the next Marvel movies (which I had no idea Strange was going to be in). The one after the credits sets up the bad guy for the next Doctor Strange movie.
Doctor Strange Easter Eggs
*** Spoilers Follow ***
The Infinity Gauntlet – Everyone who has been following Marvel movies knows that The Avengers will soon battle Thanos and it centers on the Infinity Stones. We have now seen different Infinity Stones in
- Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers (The Tesseract – Space Stone)
- Thor: The Dark World (Aether – Reality Stone)
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron (Chitauri Scepter – Mind Stone, now in Vision’s forehead)
- Guardians of the Galaxy (The Orb, Power Stone)
- Doctor Strange (Eye of Agamotto, Time Stone)
So, Doctor Strange gives us the fifth of six Infinity Stones, leaving only the Soul Stone remaining. There are rumors that the Soul Stone will show up in Thor: Ragnarok, which Marvel said will change everything about the movie world.
Other Doctor Strange Easter Eggs
- Christine Palmer, the nurse that cares for Doctor Strange, is actually based on a mysterious hero from classic Marvel comics called The Night Nurse.
- Before Strange had his car accident, he was on the phone and was asked if he wanted to work on a woman struck by lightning who was suffering from schizophrenia. While this is not confirmed, I would bet dollars to donuts that it is Captain Marvel, whose movie comes out in 2019.
- When Doctor Strange is in the Sanctum Sanctorum for the first time, he witnesses the protector of the house die at the hands of Kaecilius. That man was Daniel Drumm. In the comics, Drumm’s brother was Brother Voodoo – someone who took Doctor Strange’s place as the Sorcerer Supreme for a while in the comics.
- I already mentioned the Doctor Strange post-credit scenes but didn’t mention what they were due to spoilers. Since we are in the spoiler part of this review, here we go. Thor asked Doctor Strange for help to bring Loki to Earth to help find Odin. This means that Strange will have some kind of role in Thor: Ragnarok.
- The Book of Cagliostro is what Doctor Strange used to learn how to bend time. In some fun trivia, that is also the book Baron Mordo used in the comics to fight The Ancient One. While the movie changed up Mordo’s path, it was still a nice addition to the movie.
- Stan Lee had his cameo as a person on a bus during the big Inception-styled battle. The book that he was reading was “Doors of Perception” by Aldous Huxley, essays about opening one’s mind to a higher plane of existence – which is what Doctor Strange does.