The Marvel Cinematic Universe has done a remarkable job of taking unusual characters and concepts that, while at home in a comic book, would be difficult to pull off in live-action movie format and making them accessible to a general audience.
2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a prime example of this. Marvel took an obscure comic property and turned it into one of their most acclaimed films.
Despite this, tackling Doctor Strange would be no easy feat. You’d only have to browse his comics briefly to know that the character is… out there, to say the least. The comics live up to the character’s surname, filled with complicated magic, weird villains, and a whole array of magic words and artifacts that sound like stuff out of a bad Saturday cartoon.
Given the material, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Doctor Strange simply did not connect with audiences. Yet once more, Marvel has proved us wrong, and we are all the better for it.
Doctor Strange earned $32.6 million on its opening day, and finished the weekend with a total gross of $85.1 million. It is predicted to make $255 million in total domestic gross. The film also debuted strong overseas, earning $87.7 million over its first weekend from 33 markets.
The film follows the story of Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a brilliant yet arrogant neurosurgeon. In a horrific car accident, Strange loses the use of his hands, and in turn his ability to preform surgery. Locked in a deep depression, he devotes all his wealth to repairing his maimed appendages, discovering a sanctuary in Tibet proceeded over by The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton.)
Under The Ancient One, Strange discovers and learns magic, while foiling the plot of rogue sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson) that threatens the safety of Earth.
First and foremost, Cumberbatch is remarkable in the lead role. He manages to make Strange aloof, cocky, and at times cruel, while also making him charming, witty, and determined. Quintessential to the character is his story arc of going from narcissistic surgeon to altruistic hero, and Cumberbatch pulls this off perfectly, displaying his vast talent and acting range.
For that matter, all actors in the film preformed admirably. Swinton plays the archtype of the ancient, wisened master perfectly. Both Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong give the audience insight on the complex world of magic and alternate dimensions the film is building up, and Rachel McAdams is winsome as Strange’s love interest.
Mikkelson plays his part well, even though Kaecilius falls victim to Marvel’s habit of using underwhelming villains in their films. This isn’t just regulated to his character. Putting performance aside, it can’t be denied that most of the supporting characters are limited by pre-existing archetypes, which would hurt the film much more than it did had the cast not been so talented.
Humor is utilized in Doctor Strange very well. Marvel has been criticized in the past for its emphasis on witty one-liners and punchlines, due to it breaking immersion and seeming out of place. The humor in Doctor Strange is sprinkled throughout the film, but never seems over-done or out of place. It’s used intelligently, and the film is better for it.
What makes Doctor Strange so remarkable as a movie, above all else, is its special effects. Buildings and landscapes rotate and shift like a Rubik’s Cube. Alternate dimensions are realized with mind-blowing creativity and a vast array of colors and sounds that flutter past in the blink of an eye. Gravity shifts and the world spins in spectacles that leave the viewer disoriented and amazed all at once. These effects largely contribute to building a world of magic on a scale that the MCU has yet to see. It’s simply phenomenal to watch.
Doctor Strange has some of the best special effects in modern cinema and will no doubt win an Oscar this year for them.
The ending of the film also breaks the typical Marvel mold of there being a spectacular and destructive final battle. To avoid spoilers, that is all that will be said on this point, but it is very clever and enriches the movie as a whole.
While not perfect by any means, Doctor Strange stands solidly on its own two feet, and takes a rightful place as one of the MCU’s strongest standalone entries.