Growing up, I was enthralled with the supernatural. J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter franchise and films like The Craft and Hocus Pocus opened my imagination to worlds and stories I had never previously dreamed up. The thought of using some spell or having a wand to alter the things around me was majestic to me. My love of superheroes came much later. With the resurgence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I was introduced to timeless legends whose lives were ripped from comic books and illuminated on the big screen. From Iron Man to Black Widow, these fearsome warriors used their strength and agility to defeat various big bads and keep the world safe. With MCU’s latest feature film, Doctor Strange, the studio has merged the fantastical with the legacy of the superhero to delightful effects.
In the film, Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the arrogant but brilliant neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange. Driven only by his own esteem and ego, Dr. Strange can’t even be bothered to see patients whose conditions don’t “challenge him”. Aside from a fellow surgeon and former lover, Doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), Dr. Strange mostly keeps to himself, spending his money faster than he can make it and attending events that only honor his esteemed work.
As we all know in the MCU and in the world, the universe rarely continues to reward the arrogant and prideful. When he least expects it, a devastating, though gloriously shot car crash leaves Dr. Strange’s hands in shambles. A shell of his former self despite numerous surgeries, he finds himself in Kamar-Taj at the doorstep of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton); as a last stick effort to regain the use of his hands and his former glory.
Here’s where the film got really interesting. A huge departure from what we’ve previously seen in the MCU, Dr. Strange finds himself seduced by hidden worlds and alternative dimensions. Much darker in tone than anything we’ve seen the Avengers in, the stunning and mind-bending visual effects are what keep Doctor Strange in motion. Aided by his photographic memory and befriended by another one of The Ancient One’s followers, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Strange finds himself reluctantly aiding The Ancient One agains the diabolical Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson) who is set on summoning Dormammu of the Dark Dimension so that he and his followers might live forever.
There is a ton to consider here, especially if you’ve never read the Marvel Comics. While Strange’s backstory is fully fleshed out, MCU missed the mark on McAdams’ Dr. Palmer, who just isn’t given enough to do. Benedict Wong‘s Wong, the strict librarian at Kamar-Taj is wonderful, though a lit more stringent comedically then what we’re used to from Marvel. Furthermore, we never truly understand Kaecilius’ animosity against The Ancient One. Honestly, this film, which ran just short of two hours, could have tacked on a few more minutes to dive even deeper.
Overall, the film is a strangely bizarre and brilliant departure from what we usually see from Marvel, and that’s why I adored it. While the narrative isn’t exactly original sticking instead to the typical hero origin story, the performance and effects are gorgeously done and the final moments just might give a twist you may not have seen coming.
Doctor Strange hits theaters Friday, November 4th