As the world in Doctor Strange folded in on itself, reshaping the landscape right before the audience’s eyes, a genuine sense of excitement and awe could be felt throughout the crowd. So it comes as no surprise that the moment that evoked the biggest groans of displeasure was not in the film itself, but rather in its second post-credit scene. While Marvel has become synonymous with this savvy marketing technique, the second stinger hinted at a possible return to the standard cookie cutter storytelling Marvel fans have grown weary of. In short, the complete opposite to everything that Doctor Strange strives to be.
What makes Doctor Strange such a welcome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the fact that it feels alive and full of creativity. Similar to Guardians of the Galaxy, a film whose charm gets more infectious as its ages, and the recent Marvel offerings on Netflix (specifically Jessica Jones and Luke Cage), Doctor Strange thrives because it is not beholden to the same standards as Marvel’s top tier characters. Now that the average five-year-old grows up knowing the lore of Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, etc, and are continually feed the same heroic tales via comics and cartoons as they ascend to adulthood, keeping the brand intact for those characters has exposed Marvel’s limitation from a cinematic standpoint. However, it is in their second and third tier characters, like Doctor Strange, who the average movie audience is not so familiar with, where the studio seems more willing to take creative risks.
Yes, the film is another origin story, but in many ways Doctor Strange is one of the few characters in the MCU who needs its the most. One needs to have a general understanding of the mystical realm in order to appreciate how freeing the notion of a multiverse is. It opens the doors for the MCU to venture into uncharted territory and mold future films into anything they like. As this film frequently reminds viewers, if one is willing to let go of what they think they know, and open their mind up to the possibility of something even greater, than anything can be achieved.
Of course this is a lesson that Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon, must learn the hard way. After a horrific car accident ruins his surgical hands, Strange finds that his life has no meaning without the glory his work provides. Wallowing in the shards of his shattered ego, and too blind to appreciate the fact that fellow surgeon, and occasional love interest, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), stays by his side during the lengthy recovery process, Strange becomes obsessed with finding a cure that will fully heal him.
Flying to Kathmandu, Nepal in search of the Kamar-Taj compound, where a once incurable crippled man was rumored to have learned the secret to walking again, Strange soon finds himself under the tutelage of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Learning the mystical arts, and encountering those like Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) who use it for evil, Strange soon realizes that his problems are nothing compared to the terror that could potentially reign down on earth.
Anchored by stunning visuals, which takes the kaleidoscope technique found in Inception and infuses it with a healthy dose of jaw-dropping action, and the wonderful performances by Cumberbatch and Swinton, the latter of whom steals the show, Doctor Strange is one of the more entertaining Marvel releases in recent years. The studio still has problems when it comes to crafting memorable villains that have actual depth. Mikkelsen tries his best with what little he is given, but Kaecilius lacks charisma and overall the presence of a Loki, or to a much lesser extent, Ultron. There is also the issue of Marvel’s continued willingness to only embrace diversity through its supporting characters, which is especially problematic considering the lack of Asian actors in the film.
However, despite these flaws, Doctor Strange‘s creativity and sly humour is exactly what Marvel needs right now. Audience have been bombarded with too many Marvel films that simply feel like commercials for other MCU films, Doctor Strange shows that standalone Marvel films can still feel fun and fresh.