Someone once said that movies are a great way to escape from reality, and Doctor Strange (2016) was the film that made that phrase true for me. I first watched this film during the night of the last presidential election and not to get into my political views, but let’s say I wanted to stay away from political news that night. Doctor Strange was my gateway to serenity. Since then I have seen it two more times in the theater and watched it several times at home. So, by that statement it means I love this film, right? Well, unfortunately I do have some complaints about the film that make it less than perfect for me, but I’ll get to that later. Right now, let’s describe the plot of this film and from there I’ll explain my criticisms and the things that I enjoyed.
In Doctor Strange we follow Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a genius neurosurgeon in New York City. He’s brilliant in his field but has a bit of an ego problem that gets on his colleagues’ nerves, including his close friend Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). One night after driving through a rainstorm, Stephen gets into a terrible accident that severely damages his hands. After countless surgeries that cost him his wealth, Stephen’s hands don’t fully recover to the degree to where he wants them so he can be a great neurosurgeon again. Desperate for any help, he gets word that a former patient of his got fully healed. Tracking this former patient down, Stephen is told about a place called Kamar-Taj, which is where he’ll find the answers he needs. When Stephen gets there he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who tells him how they are able to cure the body and other forms of incredible practices through the power of the mystic arts. This leaves Stephen in a skeptical state which then leads The Ancient One to demonstrate her power to Stephen where he (literally) has an out of body experience on the astral plane and in other dimensions. With Stephan now a full-on believer in what he’s been shown, he begs The Ancient One for guidance and to train him. At first, she declines his request but eventually she reluctantly agrees to teach him everything she knows. From there the movie shows the origin of how Dr. Stephen Strange becomes the Sorcerer Supreme that we all know and love. Meanwhile in the shadows, a corrupt sorcerer known as Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his zealot followers use knowledge they stole from The Ancient One to contact Dormammu (also Benedict Cumberbatch); a dark being from the dark dimension whose one purpose is to create havoc on our world.
As stated earlier, I don’t think Doctor Strange is a perfect film as it does have some problems that I can’t ignore. One of them is the pacing. I don’t mind when a film gets straight to the point, but here I felt like the story felt a little too rushed and could’ve had a slower pace. Another problem (though I very minor one) that I had was the origin story. There is nothing particularly wrong with it, though the tone of Stephen’s origin story felt a bit recycled especially after seeing Iron Man and Thor beginnings as a hero. I know usually in these reviews I post my criticism much later, but I wanted to knock it out early because from here on out I want to talk about the film on a more positive note.
Aside from Doctor Strange not being as original as it could be when it comes to tone, Stephen Strange is indeed a fascinating character that developed into someone that I grew to love. At first, I couldn’t stand him due to the fact that he came across as a militant atheist when presented with beliefs. But when I started to look at the bigger picture he became a much more likable person. His character fit the archetype of someone who is discovering faith for the first time as he constantly questions his mentors, such as The Ancient One and Wong (Benedict Wong), who serves as the librarian for Kamar-Taj. Stephen’s interaction with Wong not only develops the character and chemistry between the men, but it also provides the humor that greatly balances the serious tone of the film. Even though Stephen goes through a transformation throughout the film, he still tries to practices some form of pacifism towards facing enemies. This is informed by the vow he took as a doctor to treat life lives not take them. I won’t spoil the ending of the film, but let’s just say Stephen does practice his intention of saving lives without resorting to violence towards the main villain that was executed pretty well.
While Doctor Strange isn’t my all-time favorite MCU film, it is something that I deeply enjoy due to the Catholic symbols that I was able to spot when I first saw the film and later during consecutive viewing. For example, Stephen Strange was basically the fisherman that dropped everything and followed Jesus when he learned of The Ancient One’s powers. Dormammu was portrayed as Satan as he provided false promises for Kaecilius and his zealots. Finally, The Ancient One is a prophet who guides our hero to not only a better understanding of life, but helping him to be a better person as well. I would say more, but I’ll let you find the rest. It doesn’t surprise me though that this film has that symbolism in it due to the co-writer C. Robert Cargill being a Christian. In fact, I once read that Cargill thought about entering the priesthood at a young age and while he may not have gone through that route, I’m glad that he still practices Christianity.
Now I would be doing Doctor Strange a disservice if I didn’t mention one of my favorite aspects of the film, which is the visual effects. With this being a comic book film (especially a Marvel Cinematic Universe film), special effects is something that you’d expect, but the this film goes above and beyond when comes it comes to the visuals. Because this film explores the topic of other dimensions existing, this allows the special effects team to create jaw-dropping, surreal imagery that still blows my mind to this day. I’ve seen this film two times, including a fifteen minute preview in IMAX and I can with full confidence say that this is one of the best films that I’ve seen in that format. Even without seeing it in that format I’m still blown away from it especially the scenes that feature kaleidoscope-esque imagery. If you haven’t gotten the chance to see this film yet, I highly encourage you to do so but in the highest format possible, whether it be Blu-ray or 4K.
It goes without saying that I treasure Doctor Strange for many reasons, such as the symbolism and visuals effects, which is still astonishing to this day. Again, please see this when you get the chance and view it in the highest quality possible. There is a sequel coming out and normally I would be ecstatic, but unfortunately the director and writers from this film won’t be returning, which disappoints me. I just pray that the replacements can replicate the same amount as success that this film did.