Now in Phase Three and on their 14th film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Studios has perfected the superhero genre and has been able to branch out and take more chances with the source material. Avengers: Age of Ultron introduced magic into the MCU with Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, but it’s Doctor Strange that takes sorcery to a whole new plane of existence. It’s the wildest and most visually creative Marvel film we’ve seen so far.
Doctor Strange begins with your typical origin story as it introduces the supremely talented neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who has it all; talent, wealth, and an immense ego to match them both. That all somewhat changes when he gets into a nasty car accident that severely damages his hands. After exhausting all normal means of medicine, he hears about Kamar-Taj, a temple in the mountains with mysterious healing abilities. There he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a sorcerer who teaches Strange how to harness magic and use it as a weapon and to open planes to other dimensions. Meanwhile Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former disciple of the Ancient One, has stolen an ancient spell and plans to use it to summon the powerful god Dormammu of the Dark Dimension. It isn’t long before the inexperienced Strange is thrusted into an inner dimensional war with the fate of the entire Earth at stake.
Even though Doctor Strange follows the standard Marvel beats, it benefits immensely by having an all-star cast and some of the best visuals of any film to date. I will be the first to admit that I hated Stephen Strange as a person in the beginning. He’s the medical version of a pre-Iron Man Tony Stark; an arrogant and self-absorbed doctor who thinks he’s God’s gift to humanity. There’s always been this underlying need to care for others, however. He is a doctor, afterall. By the end of the film, he’s fully embraced his role as the Sorcerer Supreme and protector of Earth. While I won’t spoil the ending, the film does have one of the most unique villain battles of all the Marvel films. It’s far from the usual good guy using everything he has to defeat the bad guy in spectacular fashion, and it lines up well with Strange’s development as a character.
By far the most entertaining aspect of the film is its visuals. This is one you must see in 3D, and I would even go as far to say in IMAX as well, although I personally have yet to see it in the larger format. Doctor Strange opens with a battle between the Ancient One and Kaecilius and his followers. It’s an intense display of acrobatics and fighting as the entire landscape shifts into all sorts of directions. It’s like Inception on LSD. In fact the entire film is one big drug trip, which is only compounded by the wonderfully utilized 3D. The scene in which Strange is first introduced to the astral plane by the Ancient One is one of the most bizarre and otherworldly experiences I’ve had in a theater. The full introduction of magic into the Marvel Cinematic Universe opens up a world of possibilities for interesting scenes like the two mentioned above. I’m excited to see how they will incorporate Strange into the mix with the other superheroes.
Doctor Strange has a good balance between playing it safe and breaking out of the mold. It has all the familiarities of a Marvel film, but still manages to introduce some fresh new ideas to the universe. After a string of films that has built up the MCU that culminated with Civil War, it’s also refreshing to have a film that’s more self-contained and doesn’t rely on any of the outside elements to remain interesting. Doctor Strange has no difficulty in standing on its own. 14 films in and Marvel Studios is still showing no signs of slowing down.