Review: Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has expanded at accelerating pace to some level we can fathom where it leads anymore. Along its long run, all Earth’s mightiest heroes in Avengers have contributed to numbers of on-screen collateral damage more than any franchises have ever done. They even acknowledge it in and exploit it as the cause of Civil War, which is a clever move.
Yet, as one character in Marvel’s latest tenure Doctor Strange said, “Avengers protect Earth from physical dangers.” As it highlights the physical attacks hence the collateral damage, how about the supernatural or metaphysical attack? That’s where the Sorcerer Supreme gets his solid slot in MCU.
In fact Doctor Strange is another biggest gamble Marvel ever done since Guardians of the Galaxy. It appears mostly as a stand-alone feature, referencing the renowned MCU at minimum basis (only some direct spoken references and an apparition of Avengers towers), and posits itself in an unknown points at MCU timeline. The only gripe is: it is another origin story along with the cliched formula of origin story. Yet, this is a necessary origin story—for an important character and for an area Marvel has never touched.
The titular doctor is Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a stubborn, narcissistic neurosurgeon, who puts his brilliant career into doom after a car crash. His desperate search for cure to his damaged finger leads him to a sanctuary in Kathmandu, Nepal. Little did Stephen know that a secret order of sorcerers led by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) that reside there isn’t only capable of curing him, but instead, inaugurating him to an occult voyage.
Strange’s origin story is undeniably a generic one; and Stephen Strange is a typical Marvel guy—a mirroring figure to Tony Stark. His road to stardom isn’t a special one either; some plot-points only serve its role as an obligatory steps to pave the doctor’s road to his magical MCU entry. What makes his presence necessary is only: his own entry to metaphysical world, which also marks a knock from that world to Marvel’s physical world.
As per Marvel standards, Doctor Strange is adorned with candy-colored details and tongue-to-cheek gags; but reaching the moment where the Ancient One awakens something from within Strange, we know that it leads to something different. Scott Derrickson presents to us several minutes full of psychedelic vision—an abstract, choreographed trippy images which bombard audiences with mind-bending feels. Once we saw it, our Marvel Cinematic experience will never be the same again.
From there, we are introduced to some inventive battles we’ve never fully seen anywhere else in MCU. It’s not the Avengers-standard of explosions, which flatted world’s biggest cities and even Xandar, but rather a tricky one. Using spells and sorcery is one thing, but exploiting gravity, space and time to attack and defend is a completely different thing. Rarely has a battle been this beautifully choreographed and designed.
The best part is the third act, which defies all expectation. Upon all super-abilities all superheroes have in Marvel Cinematic Universe, who would have thought that Strange chooses not to use any and, instead, uses his bargaining skill? Scott Derrickson really is having fun with Doctor Strange and he tells us that having fun doesn’t have to be full of explosion. That’s clever.
While most of the time the plot is as amazed as Strange to learn his new power, it’s seemingly a trial and error to a new thing Marvel tries to inject to the franchise. The whole Doctor Strange plot is a bridge to further expand MCU and make real senses of how things in different MCU dimension is connected. I wonder how Strange gets connected to other MCU entries soon.
Cumberbatch instantly clicks to Strange’s persona, and Swinton turns down hesitation regarding white-washing controversy with effortless portrayal of the ancient guru. However, Doctor Strange falls short in a pit Marvel usually falls prey: villain. Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius, a treacherous former apprentice of the Ancient One is left in vain; the same as Rachel McAdams as Marvel’s typical drowned love-interest. However, it still excels in giving Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) a smooth backstory to his villainous persona in the future.
In the end, Doctor Strange isn’t only exceeding expectations as Marvel’s big gamble with astounding visual and engaging plot points to further expand MCU; but it also shows how Marvel can always have fun in many ways we do not imagine. It’s not a CGI-fest anymore; it’s a psychedelic voyage to Marvel’s visceral frame.
Doctor Strange (2016)
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Adaptation Directed by: Scott Derrickson Written by: Scott Derrickson, Jon Spaihts, C. Robert Cargill Starred by: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton Runtime: 115 mins Rated PG-13