Dr. Strange: Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain!
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
There’s no denying the MCU has a formula in their movies. But that formula has brought vast success in bringing many great Marvel heroes to the big screen almost each one with different down to earth quality capable of taking them seriously, making them human, but still sticking to their comic book roots. I mean you can’t fault a formula when it works. Some of them play it safe while some go all out in breaking down the Marvel doors of success. This is a movie that does a bit of both: It takes some amazing risks but does play it safe in other areas.
The story involves neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is quite skilled in his work but less skilled with his friends. After getting into a car accident his hands are damaged to the point his operating days are over. While searching for a way to heal his hands he comes across a paraplegic who somehow regained the use of his legs from a place called Kamar-Taj. Strange travels there and comes across a woman known as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) in addition to her fellow students who teach Strange to heal himself physically and mentally as well as the various ways of the mystic arts. But an evil villain named Kaecilius as well as his followers who used to be one of the Ancient One’s students wants the power for his own evil intents. Thus Strange and his other allies have to stop him.
The story isn’t anything Marvel hasn’t done before. And that pretty much falls into what I said about this movie playing it safe: When you get down to it, it’s pretty much the Iron Man story again: charismatic jerk with a mix of arrogance and genius, suffers life-changing injury that causes him to reevaluate his ways, and develops into a greater person and hero in the process but still sticking to some of the charismatic, genius, and arrogance that made him likable. On the one hand, with so many Marvel movies, out that formula can easily sway some people. On the other hand, Marvel has enough creativity, humor, and drama to craft it a little more in execution. Marvel is just that good at telling this kind of story to the point that it doesn’t matter for some. So, while the story is by the numbers, what are always good traits of Marvel movies keep the movie’s substance high enough.
However, what REALLY makes this movie for me are the visuals. What they do to explore the mystical side of this fictional universe they’ve established is amazing. Scott Derickson’s direction does well in taking the psychedelic colors of the original comics and bringing them to life so vividly. Sometimes it’s downright trippy in what they can do with this. It’s done so well it’s almost to a fault. This is very much a style over substance movie. And while there is substance in caring for the characters, what they’re going through, the connections the characters have and their ways of battle, and the action (Strange’s entire battle with Dormammu is sheer genius in look and the way he defeats him) visuals like these could be better used a different Marvel movie.
Benedict Cumberbatch was the perfect choice to portray the charisma and arrogance of Stephen Strange although his accent does leave something to be desired. Tilda Swinton has a fascinating other-worldliness quality as The Ancient One. Benedict Wong as Wong was plenty of fun. And while Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo seems to be a sympathetic and interesting character there’s not much of him throughout the movie outside of the prospect of the sequel. However Rachel McAdams as love interest Christine and Mads Mikkelsen as the villain are written so underwritten and bland that they literally could be played by anyone (or anything) else and it may not have mattered.
At the end of the day Dr. Strange only is moderately good in substance but amazing in style. The story isn’t anything new neither by Marvel standards nor even by cinema standards. It plays it safe but not too safe. And if not for the style it would have probably been just another generic Marvel movie that so many critics seem to hail the MCU as. The style does well in making it into something fresh and new. It’s amazing how much effort went into it and truly makes it for a lack of a better word, strange.