Thoughts on Doctor Strange

I saw Doctor Strange over the weekend, the newest addition to the Marvel movie universe. I’m not going to lie, these Marvel movies are beginning to get monotonous for me. How many twenty minute, CGI, multi-character battle sequences do I really need to see?

Doctor Strange offered a break from the many-character films that Marvel has released lately (Avengers, Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy). Instead we have a character study, separate from the rest of the Marvel universe- for now. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the title character, bringing some of his cocky Sherlock-ness to this egotistical, but very successful, neurosurgeon.

The film quickly shows Dr. Stephen Strange’s personality and jumps right into the plot. Strange gets into a car accident and severely damages his hands, making it impossible for him to work. After nearly going broke in the pursuit to heal his hands, he finds himself out of options- almost. Strange finds a man who recovered from paralysis, the man says that he went to Kamar-Taj for his recovery, a place outside the world of traditional medicine. At Kamar-Taj Strange meets the Ancient One and other sorcerers, who show him their powers and begin to teach him. The Ancient One has reservations in Strange’s arrogance and curiosity, but proceeds with his training.

The magic and sorcery in the film is unlike the powers we typically see among Marvel superheroes. The disciples of Kamar-Taj tap into other dimensions and astral plains to manipulate the world around them. Dr. Strange doesn’t have to build a special suit or get bitten by a radioactive insect to become a superhero, instead he must harness the powers of the mind and spirit. The mechanics of Doctor Strange offers something fresh, taking him through a martial arts-style training.

For me, Strange’s training at the Kamar-Taj was the highlight of the film. There are two main settings in Doctor Strange, Kamar-Taj and the hospital where Strange works. Scenes went from the cold, sterile hospital to the warm, ancient Kamar-Taj, a perfect juxtaposition that reminded the audience that the film is set in modern day, but Strange is part of something much less contemporary.

Another thing working for me was the narrative simplicity of Doctor Strange. Not too many characters, not too many places or subplots, just the origin story that needs to be told. Strange does travel to multiple cities through the film, but that is through Kamar-Taj, making his world feel contained. I think if this film was any bigger in scope, Strange’s training and gaining of powers might be lost.

On most levels Doctor Strange worked for me, but there were a few things I did not like. I felt that certain things came too easily/conveniently to Strange. Like his easy understanding of ancient Kamar-Taj spells involving manipulating time, which is chalked-up to him being a super-smart guy.

Also, the film’s villain, Kaecilius, a sorcerer who also trained under the Ancient One, but went rogue, could have been delved into a little deeper. I’m curious what his life was like before the Kamar-Taj and where he came from. Kaecilius’s characterization in the film I found a little cold and unrelatable. The Ancient One talks about Strange and Kaecilius having many similarities, but we never really see that- too much telling instead of showing here.

Overall Doctor Strange brought something new and entertaining to the superhero movie genre. I would recommend it and I’m hoping to watch it again.


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