Title: Doctor Strange
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams,
Release Date: November 4, 2016
Reviewed by: Michelle Germann
FA Scorecard: A
I’m ashamed to admit that with the wide release of “Doctor Strange,” Marvel Studios somehow managed to amass a fourteen movie catalogue without me realizing that I had in fact watched all of the films more than one time. I don’t want anyone to think this is particularly upsetting, because I actually think it happens to be all kinds of cool that superhero movie fatigue hasn’t taken root in the MCU. For those not up on the lingo, there is dire warning of waning “normal” people interest whenever there is a new film filled with spandex and capes. Marvel Studios has managed to dodge the issue time and again through the introduction of an interesting new hero in a format that manages to be both unique and familiar at the same time. In the fallible form of Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), we’re presented a brilliant, but not particularly likeable man, what makes him appealing is that he’s willing to learn and grow.
Most readers who’ll be in search of a reliable “Doctor Strange” preview this weekend will have filled theater seats for the May 6, 2016 premier of “Captain America: Civil War.” Both ardent fans and casual fans of the May MCU film will remember that Steve Rogers and Tony Stark each displayed an inflexible streak that was, in limited quantities, inspiring because each held believed the future could only match one plan. The journey of Stephen Strange from gifted, but egotistical as all get out, surgeon offers a respite from the square jawed stoicism, and outright obstinance displayed during different beats in the script. The good doctor is living a life of superficial obstinance, perfunctory relationships and scientific reason, until his personal pursuit to master bleeding edge technology results in him looking at his phone while on the road. His hands suffer irreparable damage in the accident, but he refuses to accept his limited options, and instead burns through his cash trying to repair his money makers and return to his old life. With medical intervention no longer an option, he is a man without power and is forced to resort to Wikipedia whispers and mentions of a place called Kamar-Taj.
Instead of finding a medical facility that will turn a blind eye to ethical and responsible medical research, he is introduced to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). For those who don’t keep their ear to the ground in Geekville, it’s important that you understand that Tilda Swinton faced staunch opposition when cast as the “Sorcerer Supreme,” because the character traditionally appeared in comics as Tibetan male mystic. He was written as an Asian, in what would now be considered a terribly dated stereotype. In short, the internet whipped itself up into a frenzy, and some of it was well-deserved. I think director Scott Derrickson did well by flipping the role and making the title the “Ancient One” something that has been peacefully handed from one Sorcerer Supreme to the next throughout the ages. The updated format for the character plays to Swinton’s otherworldly appearance, her strength as a performer and her ability imbue simple dialogue and concepts with unexpected emotion. When matched as the mentor for the book-smart but adrift Stephen Strange, she runs away with the show and helps him and the audience understand that life should never be a self-centered event that’s all about controlling the flow of the river. The most beautiful moment in the movie actually bludgeons Strange with the concept that all of the wonder and magic is meaningless without a beginning and an end.
While it did take Strange nearly the length of the movie to understand the simple truth that life is more than just a matter of firm rules and flesh and bone, he did learn and the world was all the better for it.
No Marvel Studios film is problem-free, but the smaller positive points in Doctor Strange happens to outweigh the predictable training montage and friend turned foe formula to which we’re all accustomed. Notable is the choice to elevate Wong from the role of loyal servant to a Master of the mystic arts in his own right, and one heck of a librarian. It was also a wise move to first build Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) as a mentor and trusted ally, and then pull the rug out from under us. Finally, I’ll close by stating that I do think Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) was underused, but she didn’t find herself in the damsel role, and it looks as if she could serve a role as a modernized Night Nurse in future installments.