Doctor Strange SPOILER-FREE Review

Aside from obviously Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Doctor Strange was my last highly anticipated film of the year. I am a huge Marvel fan, and I always get unbelievably excited whenever they release a new film. This year, Captain America: Civil War was incredible, and it remains my favorite movie of the year right now. So especially after seeing what Marvel did with Civil War, I was through-the-roof excited to see Doctor Strange. They've assembled (no pun intended) an incredibly talented cast, and put the film in the hands of horror director Scott Derrickson, which I thought was a interesting and smart direction to take a Doctor Strange film. The trailers have also promised us insane visuals, with imagery reminiscent of Inception and The Matrix. All of this combined, I was pumped to see this movie, and I overall do feel a bit let down. While Doctor Strange's visuals exceed expectations, its weak story and underutilized side characters makes this film ultimately a little bit underwhelming. 

Stephen Strange, a brilliant but arrogant surgeon, gets into a terrible car crash that leaves his hands rendered useless. In order to restart his practice, Strange travels the world in search of some sort of cure when he comes across Kamar-Taj, a sorcery sanctuary in Nepal that opens Stephen's minds to things he never thought were possible. 

What made this movie was absolutely its visuals. I am not exaggerating at all when I say that they did things in this movie that I had never seen on screen before. You can definitely see influences of The Matrix and Inception in there, but it's ultimately its own thing. If for nothing else, Doctor Strange is worth seeing just for these mind-blowing, incredible special effects that I'm convinced will not only be nominated for an Oscar, but will by far win it. The creativity of the team behind this film shines through its technical brilliance. Not only did they continuously top themselves scene after scene with the level of complication behind these visual feats, but they found ingenious ways to incorporate these effects into the hand-to-hand combat. You could tell every big action set piece was incredibly well thought out and orchestrated. The action is also something we've never seen before, especially in any of the other Marvel movies. The way the filmmakers effortlessly blended the use of magic with the Asian-style fighting choreography was impeccable. Truly amazing to watch on screen. I didn't get to watch this film in IMAX 3D, but I'm planning on seeing it again in theaters, and I'll definitely make sure to check it out in that format. 

I also thought the performances across the board were really good. When Benedict Cumberbatch was cast as Stephen Strange, I said that it was perfect casting, and I stand by that. He was perfect as this character, nailing the arrogance in the beginning and showing the gradual change in his nature as the film progresses and his mind is opened to more possibilities. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tilda Swinton are really good in their roles as his mentors, although I wish the story had done more with their characters, as I thought they were underutilized. Rachel McAdams also plays the love interest to Cumberbatch, and I really liked her character. She was human and relatable, and I thought she was great whenever she popped up on screen. But they totally misused her. She was only there to stitch up wounds, and give some words of comfort to Stephen Strange now and then, but had no real arc or progression or anything. She was just moved to the background, and that was disappointing to see, especially with McAdams being the fantastic actress that she is. Benedict Wong was also really good as Wong, a character from the comics who originally was relegated to being a man-servant for Doctor Strange, but they upgraded him into a badass librarian, and I thought it definitely worked for the better of the movie.  

I have a lot of problems with Doctor Strange, however. I thought the story was really weak. The focus is definitely on Stephen's journey, and that takes precedence over creating a captivating story around it. There are definitely some plot holes and continuity errors and things that just aren't fully explained nor rationalized. It was a very formulaic narrative, and I just wish we could have gotten half of the innovation with the story that was put into the visual effects. Doctor Strange also has a problem with the passage of time. A bunch of events happen that you know would be taking months or years to occur, and there's no explanation as to how much time has actually elapsed. It begins to get frustrating, because you're trying to figure exactly how this movie fits into the overall timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially when they start name-dropping events that happened in previous movies. Stephen Strange's training is also abruptly short. He begins a non-believer, uttering perfectly the line from the trailer, "Teach me." But after a couple quick shots of him learning, he's suddenly one of the best students. He needed more time preparing and studying, because it was hard to buy his character as this great sorcerer after we had just seen him barely being able to use magic five minutes ago. 

A main problem with most Marvel movies is that their villains are usually underdeveloped and rather weak. Going into Doctor Strange, I expected that's what would happen with Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), but I had hoped otherwise. Mikkelsen gives a great and terrifying performance, there's no doubt about that, but the character suffers from all the same problems other Marvel villains have had before. His motivation is mentioned in passing, but is barely delved into. All he does is walk around and occasionally fight. There's only one true conversational interaction between Stephen Strange and Kaecilius, and that was the highlight of the character for me. The comedy was also hit or miss. With a Marvel movie, you expect there's going to be comedy, but it felt out of place in this movie, and that's because it was out of place. Most of the comedic lines came from reshoots, and you could immediately tell what jokes were added in later. Some of them actually work, but a lot of them were kind of stupid, and you felt like they were trying to make something that wasn't necessarily funny, nor needed to be funny, become funny. It didn't feel organic Had they limited the jokes and made this a much more serious movie, I think Doctor Strange would have benefited a lot from it.  

Overall, Doctor Strange is a bit underwhelming. It has incredible visual effects, things that we have never seen before on screen. Just to see that alone is worth going out to the theater to see this film. The creativity behind utilizing the action choreography and these effects was palpable, and I give major props to the filmmakers for putting as much time and effort in planning out these action scenes as they did. Benedict Cumberbatch shines as Doctor Stephen Strange, and proves the casting to be perfect. All the other performances were really good, even if not all the characters were utilized as fully as I would have liked them to be. However, the story structure is weak, and the passage of time is hardly explained. Mads Mikkelsen gives a great performance as the villain Kaecilius, but the character is incredibly underdeveloped and underutilized, falling in the trap of previous Marvel movies. And the comedy feels shoe-horned in and not very organic. Ultimately, Doctor Strange is a good movie that's definitely worth checking out, but it fails to become the next great Marvel movie, and in fact becomes one of their more forgettable films.  


What do you think? Have you seen Doctor Strange? Did you like the film? Leave your (spoiler-free) thoughts in the comments section below. 

Written by: Nate 
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