Strange Tale Makes Marvel Magic
DIRECTED BY SCOTT DERRICKSON/2016
Jim Tudor: For the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it’s come to be known, the Doctor is officially in.
Doctor Strange, chronicling the origin of Marvel Comics’ original Sorcerer Supreme, presents itself effectively as one swingin’ hepcat of a commercial blockbuster. Making some of the best use of 3D visuals to date, the film bends, distorts and warps the now familiar real-world stomping ground of Earth’s mightiest heroes.
Like Joss Whedon and James Gunn before him, it’s fabulous to see filmmaker Scott Derrickson (formerly known for horror films such as Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose) succeed with his Marvel-granted ticket to the Big Time. His film opens with a supernatural fight scene that could best be described as “mind bending”. Tilda Swinton as the bald and mystical Ancient One takes on a cadre of dark-magic attackers, led by a convincingly evil Mads Mikkelsen. As she chops, zaps and kicks, she also distorts familiar urban London into an MC Escher-style moving headtrip, cog-gearing in on itself and gobbling up unfortunate baddies. I’m not sure what the exact purpose of her landscape altering shenanigans are outside of looking amazing on film, but as a wild intro to this corner of the Marvel world, it’s excellent.
Making some of the best use of 3D visuals to date, the film bends, distorts and warps the now familiar real-world stomping ground of Earth’s mightiest heroes.
From there, the movie shifts into lower gear as we meet Stephen Strange, one of the world’s greatest neurosurgeons. Strange is a selfish terror of a man, his every move purely self-serving. When an insane incident costs him the use of his hands, he’s desperate to find a cure. This search leads him to the far corners of the Earth, where he meets the Ancient One, and gets far more than he set out for: He finds magical enlightenment.
For this old comics fan, seeing this familiar tale play out with newfound energy and vigor was truly refreshing. As played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the previously stoic Strange is imbued with a winning wit and magnetism. It helps that he wears the part with effortless charm.
Erik Yates: What works best are the visuals. The other thing I focused on was just how much fun this film is. We have been trapped, it seems, in a darkness when it comes to our comic book heroes, but Doctor Strange sheds that darkness and delivers a lot of light. That is not to say that there aren’t serious themes in the film, but it’s all with a levity that allows one to just simply sit back and enjoy.
The cast is top rate. Anytime you put Chiwetel Ejiofor , Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, and Benedict Cumberbatch together, something good is bound to happen. After the trailer, I wasn’t sure if we were getting Scott Derrickson’s version of Inception or not with all the bendy buildings and such. Fortunately this feels wholly original.
Despite the praise I have for this film, I do believe that there are a few things to point out. The first would be how rushed it seemed, from him training to all of a sudden achieving supreme sorcerer abilities. Maybe more so because we didn’t get a lot of in-depth development of Mads Mikelson’s character. Enough to know his motivations and his abilities, but not enough too pack as big a punch that the climatic finale could’ve had.
Either way, and especially speaking visually, this was a bold new direction for Marvel to head into. They definitely aren’t playing it safe. Despite the vast contrast of style between Doctor Strange and some of the more conventional characters of the extended Marvel universe, he fit in perfectly with the larger vision. After this film, and the two post-credit scenes, I have a very full understanding of how Doctor Strange will fit in with both The Avengers, as well as in individual solo films of other MCU characters.
Anytime you put Chiwetel Ejiofor , Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, and Benedict Cumberbatch together, something good is bound to happen.
Jim Tudor: I think the fact that this is part of the well-established Marvel Movie World (the MMW?) is actually something that makes Doctor Strange far more interesting. Without that connection, for most viewers this would play as just another CGI-driven Hero’s Journey, albeit a very entertaining one. There’d be little guarantee of anyone seeing it, no matter how cool it was to look at. (Inception, after all, needed a more original story angle). Instead, everyone is coming into this film with the central question of just how magic and sorcery will fit into the same world as Iron Man, S.H.I.E.L.D., and the Hulk. Heck, the down n’ gritty Marvel Netflix series’ are playing out just across town from all this reality-distortion warfare. One can legitimately wonder if Rosario Dawson ever crossed paths Stephen Strange or his one-time lover and nurse Rachel McAdams while working the NYC hospital grind.
Kind of ingeniously, Derrickson and company have conjured a way for magic to play as active and screen-friendly. It mainly consists of the purveyors whipping up big sparking round teleportation portals, and running through them nonstop. Whether people in New York City can actually see much of the astral battles and bendy buildings is beside the point. We can see it all, and that’s what matters.
This film is a bit of a risk for Marvel, but on the other hand, can they really lose? It is a very traditional tale (yes, one with a far too accelerated jump from the protagonist as novice jerk to magic master) of a self-important windbag who must learn his lesson. The bells and whistles are what make it an experience, but the chemistry of the cast and Derrickson’s expert tonal balance and tempo are what keep us watching.
At just under two hours, the film utterly flew by, and when it ended, I found myself wanting more. This is a good thing! Marvel Studios (now boasting a ridiculous new logo that seems to go on for a minute and a half), it’s been shown, isn’t in the business of disappointing audience – unlike their Distinguished Competition. My only question is how the corrupt S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in Captain America: Winter Soldier knew to keep tabs on Stephen Strange when his origin is only now happening. Perhaps the good Doctor is a little timeless? After all, even J. Jonah Jameson declared the name “Dr. Strange” taken in 2004’s Spider-Man 2. As someone groovier than I once said, It’s a Kind of Magic!