Expand your mind. That was the tagline for this movie. Over the past eight years ever since Iron Man came out in 2008, we’ve seen some fantastic movies from the MCU. I forgot how great the Avengers was, but after watching it this weekend, it’s amazing to see how these stories have connected and how much each story impacts the entire world. Civil War to me was the best superhero movie of 2016. Civil War was the culmination of years of build up with the Avengers. Steve Rogers and Tony Stark went through great transformations leading up to the film. The surrounding characters were developed well too. But Civil War, for all its cinematic glory, ended an era. For right now, there is no Avengers team comprised of Thor, Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. Thor is dealing with personal problems back in Asgard, Hulk has been missing in action since Avengers 2, Hawkeye is underground with Cap, Black Widow is all over the place, Iron Man “quit” again, and Cap isn’t Cap anymore. When he dropped the shield at the end of Civil War, he gave up the mantle of Captain America. He is now just Steve Rogers. Yeah no one died in the film, but death sometimes isn’t the worst punishment for a character in film. What’s happening to the Avengers right now has changed the MCU forever. Yeah they will probably all come together to fight Thanos in Infinity War, but nothing will feel the same. We’ve reached the point now where the MCU has to try something different. They must dig deep and try to connect these stories even more. New characters and new ideas must be their focus now as we shift into the new age of Marvel heroes.
The first hero I wanted us to be introduced to after Civil War was Black Panther. Chadwick Boseman is a sensational actor who felt right at home playing the King of Wakanda. He had great character moments, his action was great, and they teased us just enough with his character, making us want more. So honestly, when Doctor Strange was announced for this November, I was a bit disappointed. Sure, I know who Doctor Strange is. Any Marvel comic book fan knows who the Sorcerer Supreme is. But I’ll be honest, I didn’t know too much about him outside of his origin. That must’ve been the reason I wasn’t too excited for this movie. It was just another origin movie that wasn’t going to peak my interests too much. I should’ve learned my lesson with Ant-Man. Marvel Studios is putting in a lot of effort into every single one of these movies now. Benedict Cumberbatch is an actor who has proven time and time again that he’s talented. Rachel McAdams is no slouch either. Although my expectations for this film were relatively low, I figured it would be done well. Marvel Studios has shown they don’t try and interfere with directors’ vision for a character. I’ve said this before, but each MCU film, especially the ones as of late have been very genre specific, but they feel connected. This film was no different. By the end of it, Stephen Strange felt like another welcomed addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The introduction of hardcore magic felt natural and the character development was on point. After letting this film sink in for a while, the only solo superhero film I like better than Doctor Strange is Iron Man. The best part about it was the pace it established from the very beginning.
The movie starts off with an introduction to magic. The main villain, Kaecilius, steals a book of spells from the Ancient One, who is played by Tilda Swinton. The fight that ensues got me hyped for sure. I was jumping up and down in my seat and the movie had only been going on for three minutes. The choreography caught me off guard because I didn’t expect much hand to hand combat. The Ancient One held her own, but Kaecilius got away with the pages he stole from the book. Now right here I was hooked. I wanted to know everything that was going on. I wanted to dive deep down into this world. This first scene is a great introduction to the world of Doctor Strange. Next, we get a solid introduction to who Stephen Strange is as a character. One word can sum him up. Asshole. He’s a different asshole than Tony Stark though. Tony Stark made his fortune with war. Tony knew he was a genius of course, but he had some inner demons in regards to his business. Whether he felt the weight of those demons before the movie ‘Iron Man’ is up for debate, but I truly believe he did. Which is why he tried to block out those demons with booze, boobs, and jokes. Stephen Strange is a bit different in the sense he doesn’t have a bunch of inner demons in regards to his work or personal life. Strange is a neuro-surgeon who is one of the most brilliant men in his field. His work saves lives and as far as we know, there’s nothing illegal about his practice. That makes him a respected member in the doctor community as well as the city of New York. This leads to his arrogant attitude and that’s exactly what we witnessed for the first 30 minutes of the film. Strange saves the life of a man with a bullet in his head, all while showing up one of his colleagues. We then are introduced to Christine Palmer, played by Rachel McAdams, who is a former love interest of Strange but apparently, they didn’t work out. The movie wastes no time showing us Strange’s accident that messed up his hands. He’s going to speak at some dinner or something, riding around in his expensive car, going insanely fast. Life is good. Then he has his accident (one that looked too brutal to survive, but you know, plot!) and his life is turned upside down. What surprised me here is the fact Strange was still being a jerk. He said he could’ve done a better job on his treatment than anyone else could have. Then he’s still very rude to everyone trying to help him during his rehab. Christine does her best to help him out, but a tense moment happens where Strange belittles her for treating him like a charity case. I was in the theater like, “Damn Stephen, why you gotta say that?” We get to see Stephen at his lowest point. I enjoyed this portion of the film because it didn’t go too deep into his history. I like that, because as far as I’m concerned, Stephen Strange is just another straight white guy in New York. He doesn’t seem too interesting anyways and I like how the film didn’t bore us with his life before being a struggling neuro-surgeon. It made the movie feel like less of a origin story. The story began to pick up though when Stephen made his way to Nepal in search of a cure.
Stephen meets up with a man who was completely paralyzed but somehow has the ability to walk again. Strange is desperate to restore his hands. They shake uncontrollably. He meets the man and the man tells him to go to a place called Kamar-Taj. Strange is approached by Master Mordo, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, and taken to meet the Ancient One. We get more arrogance from Strange. He is a man of matter and fact. Science is king in his mind. I love the theme of this movie, because there are a plethora of things in life that humans can never understand. Death, god, our purpose in life is something that no living human has complete understanding about. Strange though is the type of man who thinks he has it all together. He knows how everything works in life. The human body, technology, whatever it is, Strange thinks he knows everything there is to know about life. Now you and I both know someone who is the same way. That one guy who interjects into EVERY conversation because he truly, deeply feels he knows what he’s talking about. It isn’t a characteristic exclusive to men, women are the same way. But I do think American, middle-aged white males have the know-it-all syndrome the most. Especially when they are highly educated. Ideas that challenge their way of thought don’t exist to them. Their view of the world is all that matters. The Ancient One tells Strange that, and what is his response? He first starts to question her about the “science” behind her methods of healing. Then when he finds out she’s talking about spiritual healing he becomes very disrespectful. There isn’t a respectful conversation or discourse about magical realms or anything like that. Strange begins to berate the Ancient One for misleading him this entire time. During his little tirade, she hits him in the chest and his spirit leaves his body. It isn’t a game no more. The Ancient One shows him the different dimensions, all while Strange is screaming like a child. It’s an awesome moment. At the end of his trip through the different realms, Strange realizes he was wrong. He says “Teach me,” to the Ancient One but she says no. He stays outside banging on the door for about five hours until they let him back in. At this point in the film I was anxious to learn just like Strange was.
This was the slowest part of the film to me. Strange struggles for a while trying to learn the basics of magic. I did like learning about the different types of spells. There was a scene where the Ancient One sent Stephen to Mount Everest. She forced him to teleport back to Kamar-Taj. Up until that point, he couldn’t conjure up anything, let alone a portal. But he did it and that’s when the movie starts to pick up. He wants to learn more. He yearns to become better. We’re introduced to Wong, who is the new guardian of the library. The old guardian was murdered by Kaecilius at the beginning of the film. Wong is a no-nonsense man who has some decent moments with Strange. The funniest part of the film was when Strange was using the portals to steal books from Wong’s library. He then starts to dabble with the Ancient One’s books. He uses the Eye of Agamotto to bend time. Strange then sees the missing pages of the book that Kaecilius stole. Wong and Mordo interrupt him though, then all hell breaks loose.
Kaecilius begins to summon the mystical being, Dormammu. Kaecilius is obsessed with eternal life. He attacks the London sanctum and targets New York next. Strange learns that the Earth is protected through the three sanctums. London, Hong Kong, and New York are the three sanctums. The action that takes place after the London sanctum falls is awesome. Here, Strange acquires his relic, the Cloak of Levitation. The cloak is awesome and will do anything to protect Strange. During his fight with Kaecilius, he’s mortally wounded. He teleports to his hospital where he has Doctor Palmer save his life. An interesting fight scene happens next when he projects his spirit and so does one of Kaecilius’ followers. Their fight is interesting. In the end, he ends up killing the follower. He has a moment with the Ancient One where he begins to question her methods. He wonders why she’s lived for so long, and Kaecilius reveals to him it’s because she taps into the Dark Dimension’s powers. Mordo has trouble dealing with this as well. After all of that, she tells Strange that the New York sanctum needs a new protector. She thinks no one is better suited for the role than him. The look on Mordo’s face when she tells Strange that, continues to show the deterioration Mordo is having with his values as a Sorcerer. It’s an underlying plot in the film, but it was done well.
The best part of the film comes next. Kaecilius returns with his zealots. Strange transports them to the mirror dimension. It’s a dimension where the real world isn’t affected by magic. An insane chase ensues but it all comes to a head when the Ancient One comes to the aid of her students. She battles bravely but it mortally wounded by Kaecilius. The scene of her falling through the glass was brutal. Strange rushes her to the hospital, but it’s too late. During her time on the operating table, she projects and leaves the room. Strange follows her. They have a talk about death. She says she’s seen this moment a million times and nothing past it. Even though she knew it was coming, it still doesn’t feel real. She admits to dabbling in the dark dimension, but she tells Strange that it had to be done to save the Earth. She tells him that he will have to do it too in order to stop Dormammu. Of course Strange says he isn’t ready, but the Ancient One tells him that no one ever is. She then tells him that after all of this time, he hasn’t learned the most important lesson she was trying to teach. Strange is seriously confused. To him, he’s been doing everything right. Her words are soft and hit me hard in the theater. She looks at him and says, “It’s not about you.” She looks out at the snow one more time, then her spirit disappears from the balcony. Tilda Swinton did a fantastic job of making this character feel human. This was one of the most human moments I’ve ever seen from someone who was a powerful being. Time is another theme that circulates through this film. The Ancient One has learned everything there is to know about the mystic arts. She has acquired knowledge most people would die for. Still, she fears death, just like all of us. So much that she scattered to the balcony like a child to get a glimpse of the world before she left. What a moment.
The movie concludes with Kaecilius attacking the last sanctum in Hong Kong. Wong is there. Wong and the other sorcerers are no match for them though. Strange and Mordo arrive to find Dormammu beginning to tear apart the sanctum and enter the real world. Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto to bend time so that this doesn’t happen. Then he jumps into the dark dimension to confront Dormammu himself. Strange uses his brain to outsmart the mystical being. He traps himself and Dormammu in a time loop in which Strange dies every time he approaches him saying, “Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain.” Each time he dies, he feels it. The pain is worse and worse each time, but Strange has realized this must be done to save the people of Earth, even if that means he must die for a million lifetimes. Now go ahead and tell me what MCU character displayed that type of heroism in their FIRST film. This is a great moment because this is who Stephen Strange is as a hero. He deals with beings that the Avengers couldn’t hope to defeat. This leads to a lonely life, but all he’s ever wanted to do was help people. Dormammu eventually asks him what he wants. Strange tells him to leave the people of Earth alone and to take Kaecilius and his zealots away forever. Dormammu agrees and Kaecilius is taken along with his followers. It doesn’t look like the happy, eternal life that was promised to them, but rather a life filled with pain and suffering. Just like the Ancient One said.
The Earth is saved, but Mordo has had enough. Everything he thought he knew about the mystic arts has been a lie. Stephen had to bend the natural order of the world in order to save it. It’s something Mordo can’t forgive. He leaves the group disgusted because he trusted the Ancient One for so long. The movie ends with Strange returning the Eye of Agamotto. Wong tells him that the Eye is an Infinity Stone, one of the many that have popped up in the MCU. Strange returns to the New York sanctum so he can protect it. The Ancient One has died and now he must become the new Sorcerer Supreme.
This movie was fantastic to me. I really enjoyed it. It could have been a bit longer to me. Although I didn’t care for Strange as a person before his accident, I wanted more of a background story regarding him and Palmer. We didn’t get much. That’s my only negative for the film too. Rachel McAdams was wasted just a bit with her role in this film. Their relationship wasn’t much of anything, but I will say that it was better than some of the other MCU romances (I abhor Tony/Pepper and Thor/Jane.) Despite that though, this film was an excellent introduction to magic in the MCU. The word multiverses kept getting thrown around a lot. Anyone that reads Marvel comics knows how crazy they’ve gotten with alternate universes. Their event Secret Wars was a great graphic novel where all of these universes came to a head. While some people don’t like it, I’m all for it. Mainly because some of the characters that have come out of these universes, my favorite being Miles Morales, have been nice additions. But Marvel can’t just throw Miles in a film one day and be like “Oh yeah, he exists.” No, things don’t work like that. You still have to gradually introduce the casual fans to the idea of an alternate universe before you create one. So the fact that this was established in Doctor Strange makes me excited because the MCU has reached the point where these movies connecting feels 100% natural.
The mid-credits scene was Doctor Strange talking with Thor. Thor is in New York with Loki looking for their father, Odin. Strange tells Thor that he keeps a list of outer world beings he has to account for and he wants to know what Thor is doing in his sanctum. This is an awesome scene because Strange’s confidence is oozing through the movie screen. He’s confident in his abilities now and their interaction is as natural as peanut butter and jelly. I can’t wait for Doctor Strange to show up in Thor 3 as well as Infinity War. The end credit scene is Mordo officially making the descent to villain status. He goes and sees the man who recommended Kamar-Taj to Strange. Mordo takes his powers and claims that the world has too many sorcerers. A great villain origin story within a superhero origin story. Give me Doctor Strange 2 now!
Visually, this movie looks unreal. The 3D hurt my head after I left the theater, but I think that’s because I’m not used to 3D too much. The fight scenes were done really well, and Strange’s moment at the end with Dormammu really made everything come together well. This movie did take a lot of flak because of its decision to cast Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. This is another example of whitewashing in Hollywood. This is where Hollywood places a white character in a role that is kind of, if not directly meant for a minority actor. I didn’t mind this too much because Marvel, more than most studios, have shown they actually care about diversity. In their comics, television shows, and even their movies. I completely understand everyone’s gripe with it though. Despite all of that, Tilda Swinton did a fantastic job as the Ancient One. Her facial expressions, her humor, everything. She really brought that character to life without feeling too dry. I don’t know if the majority of actors, Asian or white, would be able to pull off the performance she did. The only actor I would love to see in that role was Ken Watanbe. He played an Ancient One type of character in his movie the Last Samurai with Tom Cruise. Cruise played a Doctor Strange type of character in that film, and Watanbe brought so many layers to that character. That moment where he dies at the end after seeing the full blossom makes me cry every time. To the point I can’t watch the film that much it messes me up so bad. Some other actors I could think that could’ve pulled off a Swinton-type performance are maybe Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen, but other than that I don’t see too many people giving that character the life she did.
Go see this film. As I stated earlier, this is the start of a new era for the MCU. Strange will be a vital part of the Universe now, he may even be on the new Avengers team that comes out of Infinity War. Cumberbatch delivers a great performance that reminds me of Tony Stark, but his development at the end is a melancholy, but heroic one at the same time. He knows his path in life will be a lonely one. But it’s the path only he can take. I give this movie a solid 9.5/10
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