When the MCU was started with Iron Man, it was built around this idea of a grounded world. When we got to Thor, we wondered how we would integrate him into that established world. And they managed to do it with one line: “Your ancestors called it magic, but you call it science. I come from a land where they are one and the same.” With Guardians of the Galaxy, we once again wondered how they would be integrated into the MCU. Now, once again we got to Doctor Strange and asked how will magic be integrated into this grounded world?
Doctor Strange introduces the idea of magic and multiple universes within the cinematic universe in an interesting way. It shows us the crazy and unbelievable aspect of it all and uses two separate instances of dialog that grounds it in the established universe and why we have yet to see it. First, the line from The Ancient One:
The language of the mystic arts is as old as civilization. The sorcerers of antiquity called the use of this language “spells.” But if that word offends your modern sensibilities, you can call it a program. The source code that shapes reality.”
And then one from Wong:
While heroes like the Avengers protect the world from physical dangers, we sorcerers safeguard it against more mystical threats.
Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the titular Doctor Stephen Strange. He starts as this arrogant neurosurgeon who only cares about his reputation and nothing else. After an accident caused by texting while driving, he goes on a journey that forms the crux of the story.
Rachel McAdams plays Christine Palmer, an emergency room surgeon who has a unique history with Doctor Strange. Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Benedict Wong play Doctor Strange’s mentors in the mystic arts, The Ancient One, Karl Mordo and Wong, respectfully. And Mads Mikkelsen plays Kaecilius, the leader of a group of zealots who are trying prove The Ancient One a hypocrite.
The acting was solid even though sometimes it was difficult for me to keep up with Benedict Cumberbatch’s American accent. He did mix intelligence and arrogance well and made me believe he really was this person. Rachel McAdams surprised me by succeeding in making me feel that she cares for Strange but can’t handle his self-centered personality. I didn’t know of Benedict Wong before his role here as Wong and I thought he played the serious blunt mentor well. Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Mads Mikkelsen all put in performances that are believable within the context of the film, and allow you understand their motivations.
Making the Unbelievable Believable
When you start talking about magic and multiple universes, you have to find a way to show them in ways that fit within the universe that you already have created. The fact that we have not seen anything of them is explained pretty well with a few lines of dialog, but they had to find a way to show us what it truly is. The way that CGI is used is amazing. From the sparking energy anomalies and the clear spear-like weapons, all the way to buildings that end up folding in on themselves and expanding out in other places was believable in the way that it was set up.
Doctor Strange takes the idea of multiple universes that was teased in both Thor and Ant-Man and completely moves it to the next level. Not only do we see the Quantum Realm that Ant-Man introduced but we also get the Mirror Dimension and many others that were not named. Each one had its own feel and its own aesthetic ranging from kaleidoscopic glass to hands growing from fingertips. The CGI here is so different that you end up in shock and awe. And, when you first see it, you feel just like Doctor Strange looks.
Doctor Strange in itself is a good origin story. It transforms the main character from a man who only cares from himself into someone who is more concerned with the well-being of others. The signature Marvel humor is there, from the confusion of Doctor Strange’s name to a joke about modern music. Add in the beautiful CGI and amazing action, and you end up with a well-rounded movie that keeps moving but never makes you feel like you are left behind.
This film does have some images that can be considered scary by the younger audiences. I know the hands growing from fingertips scene was a mind trip for me and I can only imagine what a younger view would think seeing it. Between that and the depictions of neurosurgery, I don’t think I would let the youngest comic book movie and superhero fans watch this movie. I do think that this movie is fun and a great addition to the MCU. As this is more for the fans of comic books and the MCU as a whole than for fans of the action film genre overall, this is probably a film you could skip.