Dr. Strange is the 14th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to hit theaters and the first to introduce magic into the superhero genre. Luckily, the film manages to weave the magical elements well into a world already full of Asgardian gods, web-slinging teenagers and Infinity Stones. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a conflicted and arrogant Dr. Stephen Strange who’s unlike any other Marvel hero we’ve seen before, and the supporting cast is generally good, too. However, as refreshingly different as Dr. Strange is from other superhero movies, it follows some of the same predictable story beats and has yet another underwhelming villain.
In the film, Dr. Strange is world-class surgeon who only cares about making money and proving himself as the best in his hospital. That all changes when he runs his sports car off the road and permanently damages his hands, ensuring that he’ll never operate again. Desperate to restore his hands and his career, he travels to Tibet to meet with the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), the seemingly immortal Sorcerer Supreme of the mystical arts who takes Strange under her wing. Over time, he masters useful spells, wields powerful artifacts and defeats the villain Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), the Ancient One’s former pupil turned evil.
As a Marvel origin story, Dr. Strange is one of the best. It turns a relatively unknown character into a complex hero that many fans will look forward to seeing in the inevitable sequel and team-up movies. In terms of single-hero origin movies, Dr. Strange is second only to Iron Man. Strange is very similar to Tony Stark in that they’re both sarcastic and egotistic millionaires, but Strange is more of an unlikeable jerk at the beginning. For once in a Marvel movie, we’re not supposed to like the main character at first, but as his training continues, he builds himself back up and learns how to be a better person and competent hero.
Introducing magic into the Marvel universe was a bold move, but one that was executed very well. Strange and other supporting characters are understandably skeptical to the mystical arts at first, but soon everything is clearly explained and makes sense as a whole. During Strange’s training, the Ancient One describes how they can teleport, reverse time and move between dimensions in an easy way for the audience to understand. With these magical training montages and fight scenes come some of the most mind-blowing, psychedelic special effects in any movie I’ve ever seen. The extra-dimensional action sequences are reminiscent of Inception, but fit in with this established world better. These mesmerizing scenes help set Dr. Strange apart from other superhero movies and are by far some of its strongest moments.
Fellow sorcerer Wong (Benedict Wong) has great chemistry with Strange and the scenes they share together are some of the funniest in the movie. I’d love to see them in even more buddy-cop/sorcerer roles. Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) plays a great foil to Strange and could make future movies interesting with a seemingly inevitable rivalry budding between them. There has also been a lot of controversy about casting Swinton as the Ancient One, who is an Asian male in the comics. This feeds into the larger problem of whitewashing in the movie industry, but in this case Swinton nearly steals the film. She is quietly powerful and kind, yet tough with Strange, but she also follows some of the clichéd wise mentor tropes we’ve seen in countless other movies.
The two most disappointing characters are Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), a surgeon and Strange’s former lover, and Kaecilius, the forgettable antagonist. Palmer only serves to show how cruel Strange can be at his lowest point after his accident and to help him when he’s injured. McAdam’s performance is enjoyable, but there’s nothing remotely interesting about her character. Unfortunately Dr. Strange couldn’t use magic to fix the long-running problem of terrible supervillains, either. We don’t learn much about Kaecilius or why he wants to unleash his evil master plan. He appears in the opening scene but doesn’t come back until around the final act to start causing trouble for the sorcerers. Mikkelsen usually plays fantastic villains, but the plague of underdeveloped antagonists continues in this film.
The final battle scene cleverly subverts what save-the-world final battles typically consist of, and it has more eye-catching special effects to cap it off. There are also mid- and post-credits scenes that hint at when we will see Dr. Strange next. This is another solid entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that expertly introduces magic and a new, memorable hero. Despite a weak villain and some formulaic plot point, Dr. Strange is worth a watch.