Marvel Studios have a special talent for proving both Hollywood and the fandom wrong, usually by releasing the impossible. Doctor Strange is basically the new Guardian of the Galaxy. It encompasses the same charisma, in that, it sets out to completely reinvent the Marvel Cinematic Universe, showing you a whole new spectrum you weren’t even aware of. In the process, Doctor Strange changes the Marvel Cinematic Universe forever.
On the surface it’s just another Tony Stark storyline, i.e. another selfish, arrogant, egotistical twat turning a new leaf, thus realising their true potential by undoing their negative traits. But beyond this is a journey of discovery. Marvel Studios peels away the boundaries of their quaint grounded (and realistic) established world and apply both magic and the possibilities of other dimensions. Like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, Doctor Strange takes a massive gamble but succeeds spectacularly, delivering us a new base-line for how the Marvel Cinematic Universe can move forward through endless possibility.
We are introduced to Dr. Stephen Strange, a brilliant (but conceited) neurosurgeon who likes to show-off his capabilities, even showing-up another surgeon for his inability to tell the difference between death and unconsciousness (forcefully completing the operation himself in the most egotist way possible). He’s very much up his own arse basically, even to the point of not seeing what he has in front of him, i.e. a beautiful and intelligent friend (Christine Palmer), along with the ability of saving countless lives.
Stephen is more inclined to only perform operations that best serve to boost his publicity, thereby making him even more arrogant with his God-like abilities (which, in earnest, pisses off Christine, becoming the main reason they are no longer lovers).
The table is sharply turned when Stephen gets a taste of his own medicine. In an act of complete stupidity he gets distracted at the wheel (pissing around with his phone as a particular case sparks his attention [those giving him a form of challenge, like he treats people’s lives as if it were a massive game to elevate his ego]) and crashes into the bay, causing both of his hands to be incredibly damaged. He is then unable to be the man he was before, forcing Stephen into a corner of pure desperation as his ego tries to prove every surgeon wrong and that his hands are repairable.
Stephen even has the fucking nerve to blame the surgeon (that saved his fucking life I may add) for fucking-up his hands (even though it was his own fucking fault for being a tit whilst driving), to the point where he has the audacity to claim he could’ve performed the surgery better. It gets to the point where he takes his rage out on Christine (the only person who [despite hating Stephen’s egotistical attitude] was willing to stick by his side and help him out in this difficult transition), resulting in him coming out with the coldest words imaginable. Even I was like, “That’s just fucking low man, you dick!” And by right, Christine walks out of his apartment and leaves him to it.
The only salvation for Stephen seems to be the power of “mind over matter” after he comes across a patient that was able to walk after an untreatable spinal injury through this means of medicine. This leads him to Nepal where he encounters Mordo, who takes him to see The Ancient One after he senses something worthy within. However, The Ancient One is less impressed with Stephen’s attitude, feeling he is too closed minded, which ultimately prevents his progression as a brilliant minded individual.
It is really entertaining seeing The Ancient One toy with Stephen by throwing him into the deep, pushing his Astro-Body out of his physical form, before having him transported at high speeds across the Multi-Verse, all in aid of shutting his fucking arrogant mouth up. Stephen then goes on a journey of discovery as he endures the intense training of learning the mystical arts, discovering how to use his mind to create weapons, shields, and portals, ultimately to make him learn that his imagination is the key to unlocking his inner greatness.
But the egotistical doctor is blinded by his own knowledge and continues to question everything before him, which at first blocks him from progressing with his training. It’s a deep narrative that goes about to not only change Stephen’s views on the world (but also our own) as the Marvel Cinematic Universe gets reshaped to incorporate the endless possibilities of shifting the boundaries between the multiple layers of reality.
It’s rather funny when The Ancient One pushes Stephen into the corner, i.e. trapping him on top of Mount Everest, in order to push his mind into submitting to her world-view, making him finally believe. This pushes him to finally get past his physical injuries and realise that his mind is stronger than his body, remembering that this strength was the reason he became a brilliant neurosurgeon. We also get to see his friendships grow with fellow sorcerers Karl Mordo and Wong.
Mordo is a really fascinating character because of his beliefs and reasoning for serving under The Ancient One. Like every student he had his own personal pain that he wished to overcome. With Mordo it was his desire to destroy his enemy, which showcases the early signs of his rage and how his view of the world controls his very judgements. Through his own wisdom he tries to teach Stephen the ways of The Ancient One’s world, and that Stephen needs to learn how to fight for the greater good and not bury his head in the ground like the selfish man he once was.
Wong proves to be the most entertaining character as he at first comes across as a stern character than doesn’t crack a smile, showing Stephen that is the latest Liberian and will not allow anyone else to steal The Ancient One’s collection of spells. Of course as Stephen progresses with his knowledge he begins to steal books from right underneath Wong’s nose (literally at one point) through creating portals instantaneously.
Another running joke is Stephen’s attempts to make him laugh through various cheap jokes (mostly comparing his name to celebrities with a one-word title, such as Beyoncé, to which he’s apparently never heard-of [and yet is hilariously listening to her songs in the very next scene]) to which he finally laughs uncontrollably at the end after witnessing Stephen’s outlandish scheme to save the world.
Also, I’m not usually one to side with the argument of “changing genders” but here, I honestly didn’t see the problem. I think for the most part this ridiculous argument usually doesn’t hold any form of merit and often feels forced (along with the fear that the character in-question will be damaged by such a radical concept). But here it affects nothing. If anything, it only makes Doctor Strange a more powerful narrative due to Tilda Swinton‘s incredible performance, bouncing off Benedict Cumberbatch and his equally incredible performance. You found that she was both wise and yet vulnerable in her desires to preserve order in the world, feeling responsible for her needed deception causing her followers to fall into the shadows.
This concept is explored greatly as you see how her struggles as Sorcerer Supreme forces her into some dark corners, ultimately holding back knowledge in order to protect her students not only from its destructive capabilities, but also the truth that she herself uses black magic in order to maintain her existence. It’s a perfect example of “doing the wrong thing for all the right reasons,” made only worse by the villain of the film (Kaecilius) being a by-product of her hypocrisy, laying down the simple groundwork of “what is right and wrong” within the mystical realm.
Stephen becomes caught up in this argument as he is forced into protecting the New York Sanctum (one of three specially created domains in which serve to protect the Earth from the darkness of the Multi-Verse) from Kaecilius and his followers. This section really tests Stephen’s believes as he’s put on the spot to use every bit of knowledge he has learnt to fend himself, but it’s still clear that he’s trapped between realities and is still not sure where he lies or wants out of his future.
There is a clear moment where he has the opportunity to return to his old life, but is made to see the bigger picture and that his expanded mind is the key to allow him to achieve something greater in his life, looking beyond the fears of his failures and understanding that life isn’t just about him.
We even have a few sentimental moments for Stephen to face. First he is forced to get the help of Christine (not once, but twice) in order to help him in his battle against Kaecilius. He at first needs her to perform surgery on him after being fatally stabbed (which is actually a rather graphic wound for a Marvel Studios’ film) whilst he confronts one of Kaecilius’ followers within the Astral-Plane (which is rather entertaining, particularly in seeing poor Christine having to deal with the shit Stephen has placed on her doorstep).
The second occasion forces Christine to have to perform surgery on The Ancient One (after her battle with Kaecilius ends in devastation, i.e. she is thrown through a portal and crashes through a glass ceiling onto the concrete below) whilst Stephen tries desperately to convince his tutor to fight against her fate. But he soon learns that this moment has been prepared for (of sorts), forcing The Ancient One to reflect on her decisions, as well as give Stephen the final nudge he requires to fully understand his true destiny.
It sets-up the final act beautifully, showing how well-crafted Stephen’s journey was throughout the film as his arrogance blinded him until this very moment, to which he finally threw away his twat-hat and became the hero (even growing the balls to admit his flaws to Christine [apologising to her in the progress]).
The Sorcerer’s Supreme is born, as Stephen begins to learn the responsibilities of being the hero and the sacrifices that have to be made. This results in him having to make similar decisions to The Ancient One, i.e. breaking the rules for the greater good. Even Wong doesn’t object to this as he witnesses himself coming back to life through Stephen using the Eye of Agamotto (forcefully revealed to be an Infinity Stone) to reverse time. Again, this is another example of the spectacular presentation present in this wonderfully structured film, which feels like a massive art-project (at times) through its divine imagery.
Honestly, this film is fucking outstanding with its usage of CGI, tricking the eye into believing everything onscreen is actually happening, as reality is warped and reshaped by the various characters within the elaborate fight sequences, as well as seeing time reversing within the final sequence whilst the characters continue to fight within real time. It’s just completely 100% amazing and I can’t help but give the team behind Doctor Strange a massive round of applause. Also, the nice blend of seriousness and comedy is perfectly timed (particularly with the clever usage of the Cloak of Levitation).
Stephen wins the day through one of the cleverest (and funniest) resolutions in film history. He confronts the powerful Dormammu within the Dark Dimension and uses the power of the Eye of Agamotto in order to make the Lord of Chaos understand the concept of time, trapping them both within an endless time-loop until Dormammu makes a bargain with Stephen. And, honestly, this wraps the narrative up perfectly.
I will admit that the villains aren’t fantastic (but are still entertaining), with Kaecilius appearing as a lost student who’s trying to make a better world through misguided means (to which you can relate with, especially since his methods do make a point when it comes to The Ancient Ones’ own hypocrisy). Plus, he does feel a little bit more organic through his comedic moments with Stephen, displaying some perfect timing from Mads Mikkelsen which really adds to the film’s already existing quality. And then you have Dormammu as this destructive entity, which foreshadows a dangerous battle ahead for Stephen when the Lord of Chaos attempts a second strike upon Earth.
And things only become more exciting with the conclusion opening so many doors for Stephen’s future within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s the fallout of Mondo leaving his position due to his anger towards the corruption of the Sorcerer Supreme, thus disobeying their own rules in order to bend reality to their own design (despite for the best of intentions), whilst being oblivious towards their consequences. This ultimately placing him nicely as Stephen’s personal rival within the sequel (which I can’t wait for).
Then you have Thor’s appearance within the post-credit sequence in which shows him and Loki are looking for Odin, with Stephen declaring he will help them out (another reason to be excited for Thor: Ragnarok). And then of course Stephen and Wong will be joining The Avengers and The Guardians of the Galaxy for Avengers: Infinity War. Excited much?