Marvel’s latest blockbuster is Doctor Strange, the story of a brilliant surgeon turned mystical world bending sorcerer. Unlike a lot of Marvel’s recent outings, I had almost no idea who Doctor strange was or exactly what he did before seeing this movie. My knowledge essentially amounted to something something magic, something something founded the Defenders, he seems to have a regular bad guy who is a flaming head demon guy. Also, why is he called Doctor Strange?
Turns out that wasn’t super off, he’s a Doctor because he is literally a Medical Doctor, and his big villain is the flaming skull guy, though the villain doesn’t really take that form in this outing. Short spoiler free verdict, it’s a crazy special effects fest to be sure, even better, the story is nice and straight forward, no complicated conspiracies or convoluted twists, it’s just what it is. Benedict Cumberbatch is much better as Strange than I expected coming into this, I’m not really a fan of his, though that seems to be opposite of the norm.
Basically, Marvel has another nice hit on their hands and a fine entry in the MCU.
Now on to the spoilers and detailed thoughts!
The basic plot is just what I said above, “the story of a brilliant surgeon turned mystical world bending sorcerer.” The story starts out setting up Dr. Steven Strange as being a big time surgeon. We’re talking infallible big, giving talks big, driving a fancy expensive car big. There’s also some brief introduction to his former girlfriend/coworker Christine. Strange heads out to a talk he’s set to give in his fancy car only to get sideswiped off a cliff. The crash scene is pretty nuts as the car spins and bounces down the cliff side and through some city area before landing in the water.
Strange wakes up in the hospital a good time later to find that his hands were crushed during the accident and he no longer has the rock solid touch that he used to have. Everyone encourages Strange that he is still brilliant and can still do good in medicine despite not being able to actually operate anymore. Strange refuses to accept this and seeks out many experimental procedures to try to correct his problem.
Eventually he finds a man who was miraculously healed from an unrecoverable paralysis which leads him to Kathmandu and Kamar-Taj. There he meets The Ancient One and other monks, for lack of a better description, trained in the Mystic Arts of magic.
This is a real departure from what we’ve seen so far in the MCU, where everything has some level of scientific explanation, even if it’s pseudo sciencey mumbo jumbo, it’s still rooted in “reality”. Even Thor’s abilities are essentially explained away as “advanced alien power.” There is no such explanation about Doctor Strange’s power, it is simply “Magic.”
There’s a fairly long series of events with plot exposition and training bits as Strange learns the ropes of basic magic. Eventually he starts to get over eager with his training and starts working with the Forbidden books in the library and the Eye of Agamotto and time manipulation.
Inconveniently, at the same time he is discovered breaking the rules, the sanctuary is attacked and Strange is flung through a portal to the New York Sanctuary where he fends off some evil ex-sorcerers working for an ancient evil Dormammu. During this confrontation he picks up his famous Cloak of Levitation, which is a cape with a bit of a mind of it’s own that adds some levity to the overall movie.
What follows is the special effects moment of the movie as Strange and his friend Karl Mordo are chased through a Kaleidoscope city before being saved by The Ancient One, who ends up losing her life in the process.
Strange and Mordo then head to the save the final sanctuary in Hong Kong only to arrive too late, the sanctuary has already been destroyed, Strange uses his recently learned time manipulation ability to reverse time and the damage done as he and Mordo fight their way to the building. It’s a neat sequence as the heroes and villains fight in forward motion and everything else is flying around them in reverse.
Eventually Strange realizes he must find a way to stop Dormammu directly and flies into the vortex destroying the city for a direct confrontation. His method is pretty clever as he realizes Dormammu lives in a world without time, and so Strange brings time with him, and traps Dormammu in an endless loop where Strange is killed only to have things reset to a few seconds previous. This frustrates the dark entity who agrees to spare Earth in exchange for being released from the loop.
Thoughts and Opinions
There’s a few small issues that I had with the movie, though they are, admittedly, nitpicky. One of which is persistent throughout the film, and it’s my only real problem with the film. First issue, and it’s kind of a non issue. Doctor Strange is clearly very very rich and influential. He also lives in a world where you have things like, the Iron Man suit, Bucky’s robot arm, Coulson’s synthetic hand and everything Doctor Radcliffe is doing in SHIELD. I suppose Strange may be against chopping his hands off completely, but there are all sorts of really solid synthetic options out there in the MCU, and Strange clearly has the money and drive to afford them. Kind of a non issue, but it’s kind of there.
The bigger issue, in this whole film, the flow of time is really questionable. The impression given is that Strange has been looking for a solution for a long while, possibly years. Later in the film it’s not clear how much time he has spent at the Sanctuary learning the Mystic Arts. He’s smart and a quick learner, but it’s not clear if he is there for days, months, years, or what. I have a hard time that even being pretty smart he manages to go from the struggling level he started at to the level he was at the end of the movie withing the span of anything less than a year, more like two. This may be the case, but it’s not clear.
This is also confused a bit more by a comment made early in the film which seems to reference Civil War, but given the likely time frame of the movie covering years, it really couldn’t possibly reference Civil War unless the end of the film is in the future. During the early scenes just before the car crash and 90% of the film, Strange turns down the chance to work on “A Military person with an injured back from an experimental flight suit.” Sure sounds like Colonel Rhodes (War Machine) from Civil War. It may just be an oversight.
There is also a reference to a girl struck by lighting with a brain implant, I have no idea who that could be but it could maybe have something to do with the upcoming Captain Marvel film.
Not to mention that Stephen Strange is mentioned during The Winter Soldier. If the entirety of the movie occurs post Civil War, there isn’t any reason for Strange to be on SHIELD’s radar during TWS, he would have just been a brilliant Surgeon with no abilities of any kind. Hell even if it occurs sort of, over the course of the MCU, there isn’t a lot of reason for SHIELD to care about Strange since he would have been a pretty useless Mystic Sorcerer in that time period, if at all. Someone like The Ancient One would be way higher on SHIELD’s radar.
I’m probably just reading too much into things… PS #ItsAllConnected
The only other references to the greater MCU, near the end it’s revealed (as specilated) that the Eye of Agimoto is one of the Infinity Stones. There’s not much more other than a vague suggestion that other cosmic forces (Thanos) will take notice that the three Sanctums are destroyed and Earth is no longer protected. Then of course there is the credits sequence which seems to set up some involvement by Strange during next year’s Thor Ragnarok.
Other than the slightly confusing pace of time overall, the pacing of the plot is fine and flows pretty well. Not too much exposition, and enough action to keep things interesting. The effects are where it’s really at. Nothing seems fake or out of place, and there is a whole ton of crazy effects. The whole gist of the Magic is the literal bending of space and time. This is where you get shots like those seen in the trailer, with the “Kaleidoscope City”. This all takes place in the Mirror realm, which basically means, it affects the caster but as far as the world is concerned, everything is still normal and kosher. There is an entire sequence in the middle in this crazy topsy turvey city, where people jump or fall between city blocks, while the world twists and folds and moves constantly trying to stop or help them. It’s pretty fantastic. It would be interesting to see some of the other Marvel Heroes in a similar realm, if its even possible.
There is also the ending sequence, where the world is rebuilding itself and running in reverse, while the heroes and villains battle it out in forward time. The time bending aspect is just that as well, bending. There isn’t any popping in and out time travel, it’s a forward and back motion for a brief duration. It’s all handles very well.
The only other real bit to mention, like most MCU movies, the villains are really really flat, which is unfortunate but not surprising.
Doctor Strange is a nice addition to the MCU library and a nice change of pace with it’s magical elements.