#5 in my Ranking of The MCU Phases 1-3.
A brilliant man of science gets injured and works with an individual from the east to rediscover his purpose, eventually fighting an enemy with similar powers in a city. But enough about Iron Man.
I know I’m in a minority on this, but Doctor Strange tells a similar story to, but is superior to, Iron Man in just about every way.
Doctor Strange is a brilliant neurosurgeon with a photographic memory who gets into a car accident due to his own negligence that robs him the use of his hands in any effective way. He goes from performing some of the most intricate surgeries modern science is called upon to accomplish to being unable to shave himself because his hands won’t stop shaking. Giving up on western medical solutions, he follows rumors to Tibet where he meets the Ancient One and a monastery of monks dedicated to magic. Opening his eyes to the world beyond the physical, Strange uses his mental strength to quickly become a star pupil, going beyond the proscribed limits of his training, and meeting an evil former student out to bring about the end of the order and the current state of the world in favor of a being from the Dark Dimension.
What mainly makes this movie work is the strong and simple character journey Doctor Strange finds himself on. It’s beyond an arrogant man learning a bit of humility. It’s the story of a man with a limited view of the world learning to expand it, while also realizing his size in the face of such enormity. He may have been the best neurosurgeon (partially because he only chose savable patients), and he may have become one of the premier masters of the magical arts, but he has come to realize how small he is. Despite the great things he does to save the planet, he knows that there are more things out there that he won’t be able to face down alone. It’s a strongly written emotional arc for a main character that connects from piece to piece very well.
Of course, the main positive of the film is the action and special effects. Marvel movies have a tendency towards a drab color palette and shaky cam action (which is sometimes appropriate like in the Captain America sequels that imply a sense of urgency and reality to the action). However, that approach isn’t always appropriate like in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies and this one. The idea behind the film is a gobbledygook idea of a multiverse, bringing in the powers of other universes using magical spells, and then shattering reality in certain ways with that. That very idea lends itself to trippy visuals that the movie embraces fully.
From the spectral form of Doctor Strange helping with a surgery on his own body to the show stopping chase through New York’s mirror dimension, the movie embraces an inventive mode of special effects that lends itself well to the material. Watching New York’s skyscrapers fold in on themselves, creating different axes of dimensionality, is just fun to take in, and the action that runs through it is inventive and fun.
Another note needs to be given to the resolution to the film’s climax. The giant cloud monster from the Dark Dimension has entered our realm through a portal in Hong Kong. Dr. Strange uses some time magic to draw things backwards and then launch himself directly into the Dark Dimension to face the monster. Instead of some special effects knock out, drag out fight, we get Dr. Strange attacking the problem with intelligence and wit. He can’t beat this giant monster. In fact, we watch the monster kill Dr. Strange repeatedly as the good doctor puts time into a loop that neither he nor the monster can escape. Dr. Strange is happy to maintain this status quo as long as it keeps Earth safe, but the monster needs to escape, leaving an implied agreement that we see the end of.
The movie’s a strong entertainment and fun. A good, mid-cycle addition to the whole universe.
Netflix Rating: 4/5
Quality Rating: 3/4
Originally published here.