Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective: Doctor Strange

In this long re-watch of the MCU movies there have been few real surprises. The bad movies are still really bad, the great movies have a few flaws, and the good movies have a lot more going on than I first thought. Perhaps the only real shock was how bad Ant-Man was on a second viewing – until now.

When I first watched Doctor Strange there were a lot of things going against it. After the deluxe package of superheroes that was Captain America: Civil War, along with the dreadful DC offerings of Batman vs Superman and Suicide Squad and the completely mediocre offering from the X-Men universe that was Apocalypse, I was experiencing a major case of superhero fatigue by the time Marvel’s newest solo movie dropped. Combine that with Benedict Cumberbatch in yet another clever prick role and Doctor Strange seemed like the last thing I wanted to watch at the time. With the sheer amount of inner grumpiness on show from myself I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed The Dark Knight at this point.

All of this meant that I was eager to watch Doctor Strange again for this retrospective, particularly because I’m such a fan of this Phase of the MCU. Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed the origin of the good doctor immensely, even with its obvious flaws which I will quickly go over.

The main problem with Doctor Strange is something outside the movie itself. This is the 14th movie of the MCU which is also the 14th movie in a row that is led by a straight white male hero. It’s frankly ridiculous that this is still the default story for this cinematic universe. Even the DCEU broke the cycle before this with Wonder Woman and it’s only this year’s superlative Black Panther that has achieved this in the MCU. Again, this isn’t a knock at Doctor Strange itself, this argument fits just as well in my article about Ant-Man, but this is a major concern for a studio that isn’t rewarding their diverse fanbase with diverse leads.

Ticking the Romance Box

Because Doctor Strange is an origin story it makes sense that many supporting characters mainly serve the function of adding to the hero’s story. Christine, played by the criminally wasted Rachael McAdams, suffers the most from this. Her relationship with Strange is incredibly one-sided. There is nothing that Strange does to benefit her in the long run, although the movie does get points for not damseling her at any point. She’s there to humanise Strange through his selfishness towards  her at the beginning of the film, and how his changing throughout the film puts their relationship on the road to repair. We never get any real idea of who her character is without this relationship, and if there is a sequel, Christine needs to be a bigger part of the story. Rachel McAdams deserves better!

The Wasted Villain Corner

I love Mads Mikkelsen. I think he is a superb actor who has the skill of making even the silliest lines sound like a profound lesson. As Kaicileus he is nothing more than the example of the darker path that Strange could take and the path that Kal Mordo eventually goes down. He only shares one scene with Strange, the attack on the New York Sanctum, which is more memorable for the introduction of the Cloak of Levitation than the potential of a Sherlock vs Hannibal fight.

The movie has some major flaws, but unlike the first time I watche3d it, Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t one of them. Despite nicking his American accent off of Hugh Laurie, which isn’t the only way the character resembles Dr Gregory House, Cumberbatch has the most defined character arc of the role that he has been typecast in. He will always been known for Sherlock, with each of his high-profile movie roles resembling the super-detective, but Doctor Strange is the first time that Cumberbatch works towards changing his ways. With the likes of Sherlock and The Imitation Game, the intellect and lack of social graces, that Cumberbatch’s characters contain are usually accepted as the price of genius. With Strange these characteristics are seen as destructive, and it’s through his discovery of the magical world that he can put these qualities into something bigger than himself. By the end of the movie, Strange, through the things he has learned and the sacrifices of the Ancient One (a somehow-typecast Tilda Swinton_, who also teaches him that there is a time and a place to break the rules, Doctor Strange finds within himself a true sense of humility and heroism.

It’s a standard hero’s journey for Steven Strange, but the distinctive world that it plays out in contributes to the success of Doctor Strange. The visual effects are stunning, and the use of magic allows for creative action sequences that show how useful these effects are when they are essential to the story. For a movie that is so reliant on visual effects it would have been easy to fall into the trap of bludgeoning the audience to death with a CGI-heavy third act that has been the undoing of so many blockbusters before it.

Doctor Strange doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to superhero origin stories but with a compelling leading man, and a magical world deserving of its name, it’s pretty damn good.

If you enjoyed this article and want to see more stuff like it, please check out the rest of our MCU retrospective, and consider supporting us on Patreon!

By Kevin Boyle

(header image courtesy of Den of Geek)

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