Marvel has gone all in on embracing their weirder side, hey? Imagine if this movie came out 15 years ago, as the superhero craze was just starting. It would have been a laughing stock. But this is what a successful movie franchise allows and Marvel keeps seeing how far into their oddities they can go.
This is the story of Dr. house learning magical powers. I have to say I like it quite a bit. I believed in Strange’s hero journey, from asshole to martyr. I also appreciated Cumberbatch’s portrayal of a character who I really don’t know much about. The cast around him was also quite solid. Mads Mickleson s the villain was rather bland however, but they set up the next villain quite well, who I think will be much more interesting.
What I was most skeptical about going into Dr. Strange was the abundance of supernatural powers and how those would be portrayed. Superhero films are at their best when the heroes’ powers are well-defined and are used within their constraints. The early X-Men films are good examples of this; how Nightcrawler is able to and not able to teleport, how Magneto finds interesting ways to manipulate metal, etc. However, when powers of the heroes or villains are undefined and ultra-powerful, it becomes a lot less interesting and numbing. The latest X-men movie, where Apocalypse could basically do or make whatever he wanted, illustrated this. Looking at the previews and knowing Dr. Strange wa set in a world of “magic”, I was very concerned this would be the case.
However, what I discovered is that they were able to set the rules and boundaries of this world quite well. It was clear that this wasn’t necessarily a free-for-all; the characters had to work within certain limits, even though they could do some outlandish things. (I’m not sure why they needed a double-fingered ring in order to do it though, but whatever…) Dr. Strange had to make an effort in order to travel through portals, they could manipulate their surroundings but it was only an illusion, they could make phantom weapons (which I didn’t like so much, that was a little more in the “do whatever they want category”), and he could manipulate time but only with knowledge and, again, effort. I didn’t really like is magical cape however, that seems like it was pulled straight from a children’s film.
All of this allows for some rather inventive action scenes, the highlight of which is a fight where the antagonist and protagonist battle while everything around them moves backwards in time. There’s also a scene where Strange gets “phantom stabbed” and rushes to a modern hospital to get fixed, which I liked quite a bit.
Dr. Strange was a lot better than I was expecting, and hopefully this character and his movies can restrain themselves from getting too outlandish in the future.