I have to admit to something before this review gets started. I’m not a Doctor Strange fan. For all my love of fantasy and magic, I have never been into his character in the comics. So going into this movie, I felt like a blank slate. I know only the basics of his story, powers, and where this may be leading in the Marvel movies. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by how much I did enjoy it, but no movie is perfect. Read on for my thoughts, concerns and all the spoilers.
I saw this movie a day early in 3D IMAX and it was completely worth the ridiculous cost of the ticket and feeling dumb for putting 3D glasses on top of my regular ones. The visuals of this movie are great and the more you can get into Strange’s mystical journeys, the more you will enjoy the overall experience. Normally overdoing special effects has me in a constant eye roll, but these were done well and they only added to telling the story. This was needed as the story is pretty much go, go, go, once Strange has his accident.
Let me backtrack a moment and tell you about Stephen Strange. He is a brilliant surgeon and a total asshole. It took me most of the movie to even decide I might like the guy okay. This isn’t a flaw in Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting, the character is supposed to be insufferable. Even after his accident and he sees his hands are completely mangled, Strange still thinks he could of done a better job fixing himself up. Seriously, why did anyone bother saving him?
Strange completely isolates himself from the few people that try to stay in touch with him. Rachel McAdams plays Dr. Christine Palmer. Also a brilliant surgeon and apparently a masochistic tendency as she continually tries to help Strange. Frankly I think this character was one of the big mistakes of the film. She was unnecessary other than to be there to react to whatever was happening to Strange. She had zero self agency. Sorry but after seeing the amazing Peggy Carter, I know Marvel can do better with their love interests. At least when Christine is introduced to the magic, she is pretty darn funny about it. And yes, after one sorry from Strange they do the cheek kiss thing, so I guess we’ll be seeing more of
Lois Lane Christine Palmer in future Strange movies. Strike One.
Back to the movie plot, after exhausting all of his options to fix his hands Strange meets a man who miraculously came back from being paralyzed. He tells him he went to Nepal and a temple called Kamar-Taj, where they taught him how to do it. Desperate, Strange uses the last of his resources and also goes there. He meets with Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who introduces him to the Ancient One played by Tilda Swinton. She eventually accepts him as a student, less on his charming personality and more on Mordo’s insistence that they get him first before their enemies do. No one bothers to tell Strange this though.
After an uncertain amount of time later, Strange’s magic is coming along nicely and his brilliance is starting to shine again and he’s being a total Hermione Granger and reading from the restricted section of the library and learning about things he really shouldn’t know. One thing I did like was that it showed within the temple all sorts of people, from all ages and walks of life learning the mystic arts. There has been a big uproar about white washing and culture appropriation within this movie. I think showing that everyone is welcome and taught goes a long way to stopping the culture appropriation argument. Also yes the characters wear Eastern style clothes, but they were given them by those people. You don’t get to wear your Target clothes to learn magic, sorry.
As for the white washing of the Ancient One, yeah it totally happens and there is zero excuse for it. I know Tilda Swinton is great at being androgynous and that doesn’t bother me, but this was a specific character of a different race. I’ve read there was some politics involved with this decision. That the movie in charge people didn’t want to anger their Chinese movie in charge people because the original Ancient One was Tibetan and I shouldn’t have to explain the very bad blood those two have. I still feel its a weak excuse and Marvel/Disney should have stood its ground even if China is a huge money maker for them. They did add in a line about how she was Celtic for her origin to try and help explain why she was the Ancient One. While I do appreciate a nod towards white culture (because against popular belief white people do have different cultures rather than none), it was done for the wrong reason. This doesn’t ruin the movie for me, but is a definite sour point in an otherwise good movie. And I hope Marvel does better in the future. Strike Two.
Moving the plot along we know our baddie is Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen). We saw him decapitate a librarian earlier in the film, so we know he means business. His short backstory was that he had lost all his loved ones and had came to them to find himself. He does, but he goes against their teachings and rebels, taking other zealots with him. He wants to bring about the end of the world. You know, regular bad guy stuff. I wish we had got to know Kaecilius more, but the whole movie had so much information and action in it that there was no time. Strange is put into a fight with him early on and his butt gets kicked so hard, it’s great.
Strange does use his mind and powers together and outwits them, but he is injured. But he also gets his cool cape, who is my character of the entire movie. I loved when the cape would leap to Strange’s defense, or attacked one of the zealots, drag Strange around when it thought he was doing the wrong thing and even wiping his tears. The cape is awesome.
Two things the movie did really well I thought, was the theme of Strange becoming an unselfish man and learning to let go of control. That the only way to ever be in any kind of control was to let it go. That his ego was almost as big a baddie as our actual baddie. That once he had both of those in check, his powers would grow even more. And that he wasn’t the ‘destined one’ who was the white guy lead, because we’ve all seen that plot far too many times. Strange was gifted, yes, but he had to learn to use those gifts and there were several other sorcerers who were just as powerful and/or gifted at magic as he was. I also really liked the plot twist that sometimes the ultimate good guy might do a bad thing for good and the ultimate bad guy might be doing a bad thing for good too. I won’t spoil it all, but the Ancient One and Kaecilius are more alike than they are different.
The final battle was a visual overload in the best ways. I really loved all the fight scenes that were half martial arts and half crazy magic moves. I can also respect that Strange made a deal by being magically, endlessly, annoying and that the movie left off very openly. Allowing for all sorts of new adventures as Strange settles in New York as the new master there.
There are two cut scenes to watch for. One after the first bit of credits, and then a second at the very end. You need to see both as they hint at not only who will be the bad guy in the next Strange movie, but another Marvel movie as well.
Overall as someone who was neutral about this movie, I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would. I think seeing it a second time will be more enjoyable as the movie is quite fast paced and a bit of an information dump. That may be harder for more casual comic fans or fans of just the Marvel movies. But its worth seeing twice. They got some things wrong, but they did a lot of right too and I will definitely be excited to see Doctor Strange and his magic adventures in the future.
I’m also convinced that the Goblin King from the old movie Labyrinth and the people from the movie Inception are all sorcerers from the Marvel universe now.
For anyone on the fence, here’s a trailer for the movie:
Tell me what you thought of the movie if you’ve seen it here in the comments section or over on twitter, @thenerdygirlexp or my personal one, @quietlikeastorm.
Also for anyone who has watched the movie, what book was Stan Lee giggling over in his cameo? I wasn’t able to catch it and I would appreciate an answer.