MORally Wong blog
Thoughts, reviews, and tips from an entertainment producer/consumer
Beware. While this discussion contains no overt spoilers, it does very generally cover the direction of the movie, or at least in so much as the trailer has revealed in broad terms. However, if you live under a rock, have never seen a commercial for, and plan on going into Doctor Strange completely blind, do not proceed. Also, key plot points of previous Marvel movies may be mentioned, in case you do not wish to have older MCU movies spoiled for you as well.
I read another review of Doctor Strange stating that the MCU has effectively fallen into a formula for their origin movies. Analyzing this reminded me of a lesson from both my screenwriting and acting classes about the seven story archetypes, that there's nothing new under the sun, and all stories essentially fall under one of these 7 types. The old “boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl” is a familiar example.
In the case of Doctor Strange, a rebirth/redemption archetype, it's true that this film follows essentially the same plot arc as the first Iron Man. A cocky and over-talented genius experiences tragedy and learns humility and is reborn a hero. While the arc is recycled, it is nonetheless effective because it is the longest distance for a character's personality to travel and not one fully on display in other Marvel origin movies.
Consider that in Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers was a boy scout before and a boy scout after, and his only permanent quantifiable character change was physical. In Thor, the hero experienced a similar fall from grace and learned humility, but he was a hammer-wielding god before his tragedy, and like a character boomerang, he rebounded back to being the same hammer-wielding god upon resolution. Ant-Man was a journey in wonder, but ultimately, an already good guy got better. None of the five Guardians of the Galaxy changed personalities other than learning to trust each other because that crowded film was essentially five distraction-filled origin movies in one. Almost every other MCU hero gets introduced in small ways in ongoing movies, such as Hawkeye, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Vision, and Falcon, and essentially they can't change much without distracting from their titles' main plot so they act as slightly morphing cogs purposefully driving the Marvel machine forward but offering little character development per appearance.
Why does any of this matter? The completed journey of Stephen Strange makes for one of the most independent standalone movies Marvel has to offer. It joins Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy as probably the only MCU entries that require no prior knowledge or viewing of any of the other 12 films up until the credits roll. The first of Doctor Strange's two stingers is the first time you'd need reference material, but that first stinger also exists outside the boundary of the main narrative, a true extra bonus feature as it doesn't have any impact on anything prior to the credits. Therefore, Doctor Strange is a film strong enough to stand on its own despite a generously supportive universe to draw from.
But “strong” isn't necessarily good. No worries there. The kaleidoscope of imagery was dazzling. Taking it a further step than Inception, the fight choreographers here found innovative ways to use the unique landscape to entertaining benefit. Doctor Strange was unique also in that he had more cerebral solutions than the brute force solutions that dominate the majority MCU climaxes.
Despite my distracting yearning to hear Benedict Cumberbatch break into his natural accent, he played Strange with all the cockiness we've come to expect from Sherlock transitioning to a vulnerability I personally hadn't seen him achieve before, but it's only fair to mention I've only seen him as Sherlock, Khan, and Smaug so that's not too fair a metric. Cumberbatch pulls off the dry wit of the script well, which I find appealing to a modern audience but inconsistent with the rest of his character. The whitewashing controversy of Tilda Swinton's casting as The Ancient One was quieted by both her strong-yet-tender acting talent and the fact that Mordo, originally a Transylvanian nobleman in the comic book universe, was also handled magnificently by non-white Chiwetel Ejiofor. It's true that by comic “law” The Ancient One should be Tibetan by racial background, but it's a far cry from casting Matthew McConaughey as Wong so I'd recommend letting that one slide.
If all this wasn't enough to convince you to go see this film, consider this final testimonial: My wife stayed awake and alert for the entire movie.
Doctor Strange: A
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