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Open Your Mind: 8 Things We Learned From Watching Doctor Strange

Marvel delivers another winner.

| October 28, 2016

Open Your Mind: 8 Things We Learned From Watching Doctor Strange

By Mikhail Lecaros

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First appearing in the pages of Strange Tales #110 in 1963, Dr. Strange has been a mainstay of the Marvel Comics universe, defending Earth from threats beyond the physical plane as our world’s Sorcerer Supreme. As written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Steve Ditko, Dr. Strange operated out of his home in New York’s Greenwich Village and was aided by his manservant Wong. Soon, the character became a counterculture touchpoint, noted for his adventures’ distillation of surreal art, eastern philosophy and ancient mysticism into a battle between good and evil.

Over five decades later, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe proving to be among the most profitable film series of all time, Doctor Strange is finally making his big screen debut as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek: Into Darkness, TV’s Sherlock) and directed by Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose). Building on the good will established over eight years and 13 films, Doctor Strange marks the franchise’s first foray into the realm of the supernatural, which isn’t really a stretch for a series that features Bradley Cooper as a tough-talking, gun-toting raccoon.

The story opens in New York City, where Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a world-famous neurosurgeon whose exceptional skill is matched only by his utter lack of humility. When he is crippled by a freak accident, Strange turns to alternative medicine in search of a remedy. He makes his way to Kamar-Taj in Nepal, where he encounters Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor, of Serenity and 12 Years a Slave) who, in turn, introduces him to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer).

As Strange struggles to find his healing and, in the process, redemption, he will discover that his path will take him far beyond his ability to imagine. And since we as moviegoers were along for the ride, here are eight things we learned from watching Doctor Strange:

IT’S A MARVEL CINEMATIC ORIGIN STORY

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The film follows the traditional Marvel movie origin template to a T, for all that implies. What many will no doubt end up noticing, however, is the specific narrative beats seemingly lifted from Iron Man, wherein a brilliant, arrogant professional meets his comeuppance, only to realize that his talents can make a difference in the world. Shades of Tony Stark’s journey notwithstanding, this has less to do with the filmmakers’ storytelling abilities than it does the film’s fidelity to its source material: Marvel character origins have always had an overlap of thematic elements.

 

THE VILLAIN IS FORGETTABLE

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Look, we’ve loved Mads Mikkelsen since he destroyed Daniel Craig’s testicles way back in Casino Royale, and he’s at least as charismatic here as he was playing Hannibal Lecter, but his turn as Kaecilius here falls into the category of “great actor relegated to one-note Marvel villain who is destroyed/sucked into a portal at the end of the movie” (ie. every villain not named Loki). Just once, it would be nice for the bad guy to actually develop some sort of rivalry with the hero in one of these films.

 

THE CAST OVERCOMES ANY SHORTFALLS

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Doctor Strange is able to distinguish itself through the talents of its leads, who are charismatic enough to make you believe in their characters’ metaphysical world, even if the narrative takes one too many shortcuts in introducing us to it. Take, for instance, Strange’s almost-immediate acceptance of his role once he learns of the Ancient One’s mission; some indecision or some indicator of self-realization is sorely missed.

 

 IT’S FUN AND FUNNY

Marvel's DOCTOR STRANGE L to R: Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Stephen Strange) and Director Scott Derrickson on set. Photo Credit: Jay Maidment ©2016 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

The film is tonally consistent with the Marvel films that came before it, mixing spectacle and one-liners with aplomb – you never question that it’s part of the same universe as the one we’ve gotten to know over the course of thirteen films. While it does feature a tad more slapstick that we’ve previously seen (aside from Ant-Man), it doesn’t give over half its dialogue to witticisms (or shameless sequel set-ups in the main narrative) like Avengers: Age of Ultron did. The best thing about this is discovering that Cumberbatch, an actor known for the intensity of his performances, is equally adept at handling the film’s lighter moments.