By Joey McClure, Staff Writer
Racking up billions in box office revenue, Marvel films have completely toppled Hollywood and the superhero genre. One could argue whether this is a good or bad thing for the film industry, but there is no doubt that these massive films are moving comic book movies in the right direction.
“Doctor Strange,” directed by Scott Derrickson, is another fantastic entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film depicts Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), an arrogant neurosurgery prodigy who loses his unbeatable steady hands after a horrific car crash. Strange exhausts his wealth with increasingly irrational surgeries on his hands, becoming more and more desperate to fix his trembling disability.
Given a tip from a healed paraplegic, Strange goes to Nepal to find the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a sorcerer with the power to change reality and transport to other dimensions. After training with the Ancient One for months, Doctor Strange must put his ego aside to defend the world from a rogue sorcerer (Mads Mikkelsen) who plans to merge our dimension with a dark one.
What makes “Doctor Strange” so exquisite is its visually mind-bending special effects. The film opens with a kung-fu fight that takes place on the side of a building, breaking almost every law of physics as gravity is shifted 90 degrees, and a London building starts shapeshifting until it closes in on itself. Almost immediately, the audience realizes this is not a typical superhero movie.
What is even more impressive is the film continues to top these eye-opening scenes one after another. From Doctor Strange transporting through illusionary New York City to a battle that happens as its crumbling Hong Kong surroundings are moving in reverse time, Derrickson continues to bring more mystifying ideas onto the screen.. The film is truly a visual spectacle.
“Doctor Strange” is more thematic than most superhero movies. The film ponders the consequences of immortality, asking, if humanity had the chance to live forever, should we take it? The film answers this question with a staunch “no,” the ultimate reasoning being that death gives life meaning. But it goes further, saying to achieve meaning we all need to realize that “it’s not about you.”
These ideas, of course, ultimately push the plot, but they also transcend the screen and enter into the mind of the viewer. Doctor Strange does accept his responsibility as a superhero and walks away from his old life, but the film forces you to start questioning the implications of immortality as well. This is an interesting stance to take in a comic book film since superheroes never really die in comic books. Although these themes may be conveyed too obviously via direct dialogue, most superhero films do not ask moral questions, let alone answer them.
Although it is definitely unique, “Doctor Strange” does follow Marvel film customs. There are plenty of laughs throughout the entire movie, but the humor is different. It has a cynical nature to every joke, following Strange’s personality, and since the film has such an outlandish premise, it can make one laugh from just being odd. It also has traditional Marvel supporting characters, such as a colleague love-interest (Rachel McAdams) and a humble side-kick, Doctor Strange’s cape.
There is one glaring flaw in “Doctor Strange”: It is very similar to the original “Iron Man,” the film that started the Marvel takeover. Both films introduce arrogant geniuses that suffer from crises that change their lives, both protagonists discover an opportunity to become a superhero through these crises and both characters use their expertise to master their powers. Tony Stark uses his technical genius to build the Iron Man suit, and Stephen Strange uses his dedication to “study and practice” as a surgeon to master the art of magic.
This is of course more of a complaint of the source material, the comics. However, if I were to choose which presented the better origin story of essentially the same character, I would choose Iron Man. “Doctor Strange,” in its 115-minute running time, rushes the introduction of Stephen Strange and his training as a sorcerer. The film is trying to do too much in its time frame, and the film would have been more enjoyable if it would have taken a little extra time to set the stage for the rest of the film and the franchise.
Besides this flaw, this is among the best Marvel movies with good performances from both Cumberbatch and Swinton.