Weekly Review: Doctor Strange (2016)

After a horrific car accident leaves Dr. Stephen Strange incapable of using his hands, he travels to Tibet to learn alternative ways of healing. As he discovers the hidden truths of the realities surrounding him, Strange must decide whether to return to his life of luxury or leave his world behind to become its defender.

I really wanted to hate Doctor Strange. I kept hearing things about it as the film was being developed, and I wasn’t happy with a lot of the decisions that were being made. Some of my biggest issues were with casting. I felt that the production was missing out on a lot of opportunities because they were making decisions that were too safe.

So yeah, I really wanted to hate it. I refused to see it in theaters. I sat down to watch my rented copy with absolutely no enthusiasm whatsoever. I did not want to like Doctor Strange, but I did.

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The character of Dr. Stephen Strange is not one that is entirely new, but it’s a tried and true formula. A narcissistic surgeon who knows exactly how good he is at his job, suddenly loses his ability to be great. He feels that his life is over, incapable of recognizing any other joys in his life. When Western medicine fails to return him to greatness, he pursues an alternative wonder cure from Tibetan monks. There, he learns that there is much more to life than he previously thought.

In this film, the titular character is played by Benedict Cumberbatch. This was one of my main complaints. Cumberbatch has a voice like butter, but I’m not really a fan. He was okay in the role, but I definitely would have liked to see someone else. It is really hard to dislike the character of Stephen Strange in the end. He is a materialistic man, caught up in his lifestyle of the rich and famous, caught up by his ego. You get to see him change. You get to see him discover new ideas, to see him grow. That’s compelling.

My other complaint in the casting arena was Tilda Swinton as “The Ancient One,” a powerful sorceress dressed as a Tibetan monk. Swinton really did do well in her role though. As odd as I found that casting choice, she did sell it. There were plenty of moments where she had me emotional in some sort of way. Her delivery was good overall.

Doctor Strange also has roles played by Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, and Benedict Wong. Due to the setting and the subject matter, I would have definitely liked to see more Asian actors in prominent roles. Other than Benedict Wong, there really isn’t anyone. I’m not even sure if there were many Asian background characters at the monastery. It just felt odd to me. This is one of those missed opportunities I mentioned earlier.

If you push casting choices completely aside, Doctor Strange is a visually stunning spectacle. It’s trippy and fantastic. I haven’t seen a film bend scenery in ways like this since Christopher Nolan’s Inception. I just loved how surreal it was sometimes. I think it may have opened some doors for the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I’m hoping to see more of in the future.

That being said, the jaw dropping, inverted landscape is directly from Inception, and most of the other plot points are a mish-mash of East meets West. That’s why the casting choices were a thorn in my side. Other than that, Doctor Strange is a pretty standard Marvel movie. It has the typical Marvel-esque humor. It’s a stand alone film at the moment, but it directly ties in with the other films. It’s essentially business as usual with a minor twist.

I found the elements of time in Doctor Strange to be the most compelling. You have abstract notions of time, surreal physics, magic and wonder. There’s a lot going for it. That’s what makes this movie really stand out. That’s what made me like it, even though I desperately didn’t want to. That’s why I would recommend it if these are the sort of things you’re into.

If you’re looking for something visually stimulating, you will probably find that from Doctor Strange. The story is a good one. The character is decent. I would definitely recommend it, depending on how much you like storylines that are a bit more surreal.

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