Notes On A Film: Doctor Strange

Despite all the horrible things that are happening in the real world at the moment, there are some things that help – the fact that we live in a world where a Doctor Strange film is in cinemas and is an anticipated event is one of the nice things. The fact that it’s an entertaining and enjoyable film makes it even better. Although this is the Doctor Strange origin film according the formula laid down in the MCU (setting up the character, introducing the superhero element, fighting a done-in-one villain, links to the MCU and teases for future films), it’s done with visual panache, humour, a perfect cast and it’s a full-blown Doctor Strange movie, taken from the comic books and put on the big screen.

Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon (the ‘Doctor’ is because of the PhD he did simultaneously with his MD) who loses the use of his hands in a car accident. Trying to find anyone who can fix his hands, he ends up in Kathmandu where he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who reveals the infinite dimensions that exist and the world of magic that uses energy from these dimensions to power spells that alter reality. Strange agrees to be trained in the ways of sorcery, helped by another advanced student, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), while a former pupil, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), is trying to destroy the magical protection around the Earth so that the powerful other-dimensional entity Dormammu can take over Earth …

This film was perhaps a worry for the MCU, introducing full-out magic into a universe that has tried to keep things within the realm of ‘science’ – even the Thor film said that Asgard was a place where science and magic are the same thing. However, this is the magic of the comic books in a Marvel film – hand gestures to produce shield sigils, astral projection, the Cloak of Levitation, the Eye of Agamotto, the Wand of Watoomb – and that’s fantastic (in both senses of the word). It also takes the Steve Ditko visuals of the multiple dimensions and creates them on the silver screen – I don’t usually watch films in 3D but I found that, much like the Slo-Mo drug scenes in Dredd, my enjoyment was enhanced by the 3D for the journey through different dimensions. The visual appeal of the film is one of its strongest elements – it may have been influenced by Inception, but the folding cityscapes are fabulous, and they are a great backdrop to the magical action, which drops in a little bit of martial arts in addition to people altering reality and the world turning into an Escher painting come to life.

Image of Doctor Strange movie poster

I was happy when Cumberbatch was cast as Strange and his performance in the film confirmed my original feelings – he fits the role, able to channel intelligence and arrogance (although I thought they didn’t make Strange enough of a dick) but also show his flexibility and his humour. He certainly looks the part, so I’m glad he took on the role of a Marvel superhero and all that entails. The rest of the non-American cast (McAdams is Canadian) fit the roles perfectly: Swinton was her usual excellent self (when isn’t she brilliant?) and I hope we get some mystical cameos in later films; Ejiofor brought gravitas and nuance to Mordo, and I loved that they developed the character rationally and thoughtfully, showing his thinking and reactions in a believable manner; McAdams worked well as the contrast to the magical world, particularly in the funny later scenes (I hope she sticks around as a character in the series, and that she doesn’t suffer the horrible fate that befell her in the other franchise she was in, Sherlock Holmes), and her presence gave some weight to the character who might have been seen as disposable or irrelevant; Benedict Wong was great as, erm, Wong (it’s always good to see actors from The IT Crowd in big films) and it was good to see the Wong character developed and given a proper role instead of just the valet from the comic books, so I look forward to further Wong action in the future films; Mikkelsen doesn’t have a lot to do apart from being menacing, but he does that so well and he’s always enjoyable to watch.

The enjoyment of MCU films is enhanced by the humour and the details that are put into them, and Doctor Strange is no different. After a dry start, there are some funny lines (‘Beyoncé.’) and the Cloak of Levitation steals the show as a comedy sidekick. The film exists alongside the events of the other MCU films, but without being overtly in the MCU; however, there are details to show that it is part of the MCU: the Avengers tower is shown in a skyline shot, the Avengers are mentioned by name, and a vital piece of information is revealed that links this film with Avengers: Infinity War. The credit stings do this as well, setting up the future, and they made me smile with anticipation. There are bits for fans of the comic books, such as 177A Bleecker Street as the address for the New York sanctum, and the name of one of the apprentices of the Ancient One is ‘Drumm’, setting up possibilities.

I really enjoyed Doctor Strange. The film is entertaining, well done, exciting, visually dazzling and introduces magic into the MCU. I want to see it again but I also want to see Strange interacting with the rest of the MCU as soon as possible. Director and co-writer Scott Derrickson has fashioned the perfect Doctor Strange origin film, and opened up the MCU to a host of realms for future films. A good Doctor Strange film? What a wonderful world we live in, even if it’s only one of an infinite number …

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