What Makes Doctor Strange Fantastic

(From previous blog, unedited)

“Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all… It’s not about you.”

Doctor Strange (the movie) is an amalgamation of two of my favourite things: one part House medical drama, the other part superhero movie. Simplifying it down to those two comparisons isn’t enough to encapsulate what makes it such a good movie, though. At its core, Doctor Strange is about an arrogant prodigy doctor who receives severe nerve damage to his hands after a car accident. And the succeeding story beats follow accordingly: trial-and-error recovery, journey of self-discovery, new world revealed (enlightenment), new sense of mastery, and becoming a better person. While it doesn’t re-invent the wheel, especially in terms of superhero movies (or more specifically MARVEL movies), it does alter, integrate and introduce enough components to make it feel different from the other MARVEL movies. For instance, the magic system (and the effects that come with it) is, though principally quite easily understood, are visually esoteric in nature. When you see the mirror dimension and buildings fold in on each other it’s like looking at fractals on LSD, which just so happens to be a brief inside joke dropped in the movie in reference to the writers / artists working on the comics while on acid. And I feel that was a big part of the decision behind making the psychedelic visuals.  

Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular Doctor Stephen Strange and Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One were perfect casting for their respective roles. Rachel McAdams and all the other actors were great in their roles as well. But while the casting was superb for the most part, I did feel Mads Mikkelsen didn’t have enough room to perform at his best. His character has an understandable motivation, but his appearance (particularly the eyes) went a bit overboard for the whole “Ugly is Evil” trope. It’s truly remarkable how many of these actors seamlessly fit into their roles – and I mean that for the MCU as a whole: Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, Tom Holland as Spider-Man, and now Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange. It’s almost eerie in a way, how MARVEL keep managing to perfectly cast the right actors for even some of the lesser known heroes and villains from the comics. I’m not just talking appearances by the way, but the performances these actors deliver in their role is so surreal, it’s like you’re seeing a comic book character being brought to life.

Though, if anyone who worked on this movie deserves the most praise it’s the animators. Seriously, I can’t stress enough how underappreciated animators are, especially for big-budget films like this. The animators on Doctor Strange put a ton of talent and effort into making those visuals look as spectacular as they do on screen. And while I can’t speak on behalf of the treatment for the animators on Doctor Strange, I will say that more often than not, animators are overworked, underpaid and guilted into staying when they show signs of quitting. Many animators sleep under their desk to save time and to get more work done. It’s stressful work that’s damaging to their health and mental well-being, so the least we can do is spread the word of their hard-earned success and appreciate all those hours spent making something out of this world.

Hands off to the costume department, by the way. Whoever designed and fabricated Strange’s costume deserves a raise, because I would have gladly paid the ticket price just to look a Benedict Cumberbatch parade around in that superhero get-up. The colour palette blends so well: blue in uniform, matched with an ornate belt, a pendant necklace and complete with a majestically tossed, flowing red cloak, it’s truly extravagant. On its own, the cloak is so magical, it’s practically entrancing, and in the film it’s sentient and is a character by itself. You get a real sense of history and antiquity gawking at it like a giddy, jaw-dropped nine year-old, because it’s such an honour to gaze upon something so spellbinding and sublime.

Scenes involving the cloak’s shenanigans can be funny or even charming in a way, and evoke a whimsical side to the mystical side of the MCU. Some scenes I particularly liked are the moments of character development for Strange, like when he is shown this whole other side of reality and goes from his usual arrogant demeanour to begging for help. And then later on, when he’s proficient enough in the arcane that he can astral project with his mentor and have one last moment of philosophical indulgence with her before coming to terms with the full weight of what it means to be a sorcerer in a vast multiverse of possibility knowing your time is limited, but also realizing the amount of good that can be done in that time.

Other scenes that had me intrigued involved the dimensional folding effects, like in the trailer, such as any time they entered the mirror dimension and buildings started folding in on each other and the characters would have to quickly adapt and navigate from moment to moment, making for a good blend of action and gorgeous visuals. Any scenes that made me laugh came down to either witty dialogue exchanges such as:



“Mister Doctor?”

“It’s Strange.”

“Maybe, who am I to judge?”

…Or some visual punchlines succeeding a long-winded explanation, like when Strange relays all he’s been through since he last met Christine Palmer, about how he went off to fix his hands and ended up becoming a sorcerer who can create portals and that he needs to get back to the one he left open in the hospital closet, scoffed off by Palmer until they reach the closet and Strange nonchalantly exits through the portal. Those kind of scenes will usually get some positive reaction out of me.

As for my overall opinion, though I wouldn’t say it breaks the mold of the MCU formula, it does a phenomenal job applying that formula to the Doctor Strange character and carving a place for him in the respective cinematic universe, as well as introduce a new system of powers in an interesting and spectacular way. Though, superhero movies are starting to tire me, I have to give Doctor Strange praise for reeling me back in and manage to captivate me once more with the help of enough new details and engrossing effects to still feel different and refreshing when compared to past movies in the MCU. Ultimately, I feel the movie succeeds in crafting a new world of possibility for both Doctor Strange and the MCU, and I look forward to what they do with the character in the future.

~ Ace

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