Let’s discuss how Marvel’s latest venture measures up to the greater MCU.
Doctor Strange is an entertaining movie, and at this point, that should come as no surprise. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has consistently produced properties that range from objectively pretty great to delightfully mediocre. While people may have a particular dislike for certain films in the MCU, none of them are actually “bad” on the same level as the more universally panned comic book films that came around in the earlier part of the past twenty-something years.
Narratively, Doctor Strange isn’t breaking new ground, following the Iron Man template of humbling an arrogant rich guy, and sending him east to transform into a powerful hero. Well, technically, Batman Begins probably deserves more credit as it did it first. There’s also Arrow. And the Iron Fist Netflix series is right around the corner. It’s an origin story that’s relatively formulaic, but generally speaking, it works.
The concept of magic has been vaguely teased in the MCU through the Thor movies, though most of the magic we’ve seen there can be written off more as a super advanced, yet vague, science created by alien beings from different realms. Doctor Strange takes magic by the horns and breathes new life into the MCU that was definitely needed.
If the Marvel train wants to keep running smoothly, then there needs to be entries that regularly shake up the brand’s formula beyond the “Superhero” stories. Movies like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man effectively branched out into new genres that continued to revitalize the franchise. Cap 2 was a political thriller, Guardians was a space opera, Ant-Man was a heist flick and Doctor Strange is a magical fantasy adventure, and it mostly works.
The highlight of the film is the visual effects. This is easily the most visually impressive film of the MCU with mind and world bending effects ripped straight from the psychedelic nature of the classic Strange comics. Seeing this in 3D made the experience even better, although I wouldn’t recommend it for folks who regularly deal with motion sickness.
The presentation of magic in this film brought out a level of excitement in me that I haven’t felt since watching the first Harry Potter movie as a kid. The concepts around magic and sorcery is presented in such a new an interesting way that I couldn’t help but walk away from the movie wanting to learn sorcery.
I have never been a big fan of Benedict Cumberbatch and I have always been one to champion the role of Stephen Strange going to a man of color. With that said, Cumberbatch actually does a good job. I was convinced I was watching Dr. Stephen Strange instead of an alien pretending to be him, and that’s pretty impressive.
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo is a layered performance that combines humility, wisdom, and anger, and plays off of Strange’s rather unpleasant personality pretty well.
Benedict Wong as Wong is exceptionally likable and hilarious all while being the stoic, no nonsense character of the group.
And then we have Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. There’s no denying that Tilda Swinton is a good actress and it shines through in this movie. But I’m not convinced that her performance was so unique and special that an Asian American or Asian actress couldn’t play the role. The character serves her purpose, but the whitewashing still feels unnecessary.
Rachel McAdams does a fine job as Christine Palmer, but I walked away from the film wishing I could’ve seen more of her character.
Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius is a weak villain that’s only a step or two above Malekith. There’s nothing wrong with the performance itself, but the character was underdeveloped. There should be a sense of fear and dread when the big bad enters the scene, but I was mostly unbothered.
The film’s biggest flaw is the pacing. The plot feels like it’s rushing to get the big fight sequences, and as a result, it doesn’t spend as much time as it should focusing on the most interesting element: learning sorcery. This movie is a few minutes shy of two hours, which is pretty short compared to other Marvel flicks. It could have used an additional 15 to 20 minutes to further expand upon Strange learning sorcery and magic as well as provide more development for characters like Christine Palmer.
Still, Doctor Strange manages to be pretty damn good overall, effectively bringing fresh supernatural subject matter to the MCU just in time to align with Ghost Rider’s presence on Agents of SHIELD and the upcoming Iron Fist series. While it suffers from shaky pacing, a short runtime and a lack of women of color, the visual spectacle of it all manages to make it a worthy entry in the MCU.
I give Doctor Strange an 8/10.
Author: Mike Tré
Mike is the co-creator of BLKBOARD who’s a creative professional and writer with an interest in Superheroes, literature, gaming, politics, food, and anything else he can think of at the given moment.