Reviewed by Steven McGowan
The day is finally here, where I, Steve McGowan, get to review a movie about another wizard named Steve. Namely, Stephen V. Strange, Marvel’s mysterious master of the magical mysticism. Doctor Strange is the titular character of Marvel’s latest superhero movie, with British actor Benedict Cumberbatch of Sherlock fame playing the sorceror. I must say, as someone who’s read a few Doctor Strange comics, I couldn’t have asked for a better movie. The following review has mild spoilers, so proceed with caution, or just go out and see it (it’s good, I promise).
The film starts with a monk being decapitated. Yeah not exactly a cheery note. An evil wizard named Kaecilius (played by Mads Mikkelson) is stealing a book of forbidden spells, and the poor sod is in the way. But Kaecilius and his goons will stop at nothing for this power, so we see in the brief opening gambit before Kaecilius disappears with his stolen booty.
Next, we are introduced to Stephen Strange, he isn’t a wizard yet; he’s an extremely talented but arrogant doctor. It’s a shade of House MD, as we see a charismatic British actor fake an American accent to play an arrogant doctor who can solve the most difficult medical cases. In the case of Dr. Strange, he has the most skilled hands in the field of surgery, and he also likes to drive expensive cars very dangerously, so we all know where this going next. After a car accident ends up destroying the nerves in his hands, the good doctor seeks to restore his career but now his hands are useless for surgery, they shake and tremble. Desperate in search of a cure, he makes his way to the Himalayas where he seeks out some alternative medicine, with a large dose of skepticism.
He finds a place called Kamar-Taj in the mountains, which is a doorway to a wizard school run by the enigmatic Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton), a seemingly immortal wizard who currently holds the title of Earth’s Sorceror Supreme. Now Steve, being a man of science, dismisses the Ancient One when she says she’s a magic user. Steve thinks it’s all just nonsense. Then she hits him so hard his astral form is knocked out of his body and takes a trip through a very psychedelic romp through multiple dimensions. Steve thinks he’s had the worst acid trip of his life, but slowly realizes the Ancient One is a bona fide wizard with sweet magic powers. He begs her to teach him. She says no. Bummer.
Dr. Strange camps out in front of the wizard school front door, with nowhere to go and all his money spent, before he’s let back in. The Ancient One has changed her mind, thanks to her pupil Mordo (played by Chiwetel Efiorjor), who sees a kindred soul in Steve. If you’ve read the comics, you know Mordo eventually becomes Dr. Strange’s arch nemesis, but now he’s still a good guy. It’ll be interesting to see how their relationship develops in later films.
Next, Dr. Strange slowly learns magic in a training montage at the wizard school. This wizard school seems to be a multicultural institution which happens to be stashed in the Himalayas, rather than the rather dated trope of the original comics of implying that Asia has wizards because Asia is exotic and magical. There was a backlash for casting the Ancient One as a white Celtic wizard rather than the Asian mystic in the comics, but I don’t think any opportunities were lost there (your mileage may vary). Anyway, Steve starts out kind of hopeless, but develops a talent for magic very quickly. He meets fellow wizard Wong, who is a cynical badass and not a manservant like in the original comics (thankfully). It is not before long though, Kaecilius starts attacking that it all goes to hell, and Steve needs to make a choice : go back to his life or become a wizard.
So obviously Dr. Strange chooses a life of wizardry (spoiler alert), like Harry Potter, if Harry Potter was more of a badass and had awesome facial hair. The wizard battles in this film are extraordinary. The visuals are inspired by the Matrix and Inception, but amped up several notches as the fabric or reality is bent and twisted as the characters battle it out on various planes of existence. It’s really trippy, just like the comics, and a job well done to the filmmakers for that. One of the effects worth mentioning is Dr. Strange’s magic cloak, which is almost a character itself. I think Edna Mode needs to revise her no capes rule now.
When the final confrontation happens with the big bad, Dr. Strange employs his wits to defeat him, which I thought was the cleverest part of the movie. All too often, the final battle concludes by being big and dumb and loud (Avengers: Age of Ultron and any of the Zack Snyder DC movies), this was a refreshing twist.
Marvel had a very good year, and this film is a great cap to their achievements. I give Doctor Strange 4 out of 5 magic cloaks.