Warning: Spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen Doctor Strange, I strongly recommend reading this after you do.
Doctor Strange hit theaters this weekend and stunned us with its dazzling visuals and remarkable musical score. This is Marvel’s debut into the realm of sorcery and the multiverse, but Doctor Strange could’ve easily been something not related to the Avengers.
The movie gives us several minutes and we already get a slice of the Marvel action pizza; fighting, magic, and weapons. Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his zealots murder the Kamar-Taj librarian, the keeper of spiritual knowledge and texts. They steal a ritual from one of the books but are soon confronted by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) for a 7 on one showdown. The Ancient one’s efforts are strong, but Kaecilius and the Zealots make off with the text.
Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a talented brain surgeon whose personality is sure of himself playboy ala Tony Stark, has his world flipped upside down after a tragic car accident. His hands are useless afterward and Strange moves out of his “genius brain surgeon” reality. After becoming disabled, Stephen’s ex-girlfriend turned coworker Christine Palmer helps him out, whom he eventually pushes away.
Fast forward past Stephen’s mental breakdown and he tracks down Jonathan Pangborn, a paraplegic who mysteriously started walking again. Pangborn leads him to Kamar-Taj, where Strange becomes an apprentce of the Ancient One and, one of the masters of the mystical arts, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). They teach him the magic and how to draw power from the multiverse.
At Kamar-Taj Stephen progresses rapidly, almost to the level of mastery, when Wong, the new protector of the library, catches Steven using one of the relics in the library. The mystical Eye of Agamotto is revealed to bend time and is forbidden in most uses. After learning that he’d do no harm, Wong reveals to Strange that the sorcerers are actually like a ‘spiritual’ Avengers.
And finally, after so much time, we get an official tie into the Avengers timeline.
While the Avengers take care of earthly threats, the sorcerers take on the spiritual ones. Three ‘sanctums’ allow them to stay alerted in the world: London, New York City, and Hong Kong
Throughout training, Stephen learns about relics: magical items that choose their holders and own a variety of magic abilities. He is later confronted by Kaecilius, who is hellbent on destroying the sanctums to summon Dormammu of the Dark dimension, a place where time is nonexistent. Strange puts his selfishness and decides to team up with the sorcerers to take Dormammu and Kaecilius out.
The film received praise by critics, receiving a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 72 out of 100 on Metacritic. The film is aesthetically and musically ravishing with great pacing; it also successfully introduces magic to the Avengers realm. It also introduces some powerfully portrayed characters; The Ancient One possibly being my favorite of the movie. However, Doctor Strange’s plot was formulaic and problematic in some ways.
The ‘MCU Formula’
Marvel has a ‘plug and play’ formula in the MCU; a white male lead (which is subject to change in Captain Marvel), a white female love interest, and minority sidekicks.
While we receive a vigorous presence from the Ancient One (and some great acting from Swinton), we get another stale love interest. We have Pepper Potts, and Jane Foster, but now we have Christine Palmer. Her role with Strange makes her a waste of space; she does save Stephen from death at one point, but their back and the forth relationship could’ve been written out of the movie. The Ancient One makes up for the lack of femininity in the film.
The Ancient One, although in my opinion an excellent performance, is a whitewashed character. The original Ancient One is originally Tibetan in ethnicity, but the film replaces his character with a white actress. White actors performing ethnic roles isn’t a first (The Last Airbender, Prince of Persia, and Exodus: Gods and Kings to name a few recent examples), but I wouldn’t have minded the Ancient One not getting retconned. Jackie Chan or James Hong could’ve performed this role excellently. Our actual ethnic characters, Wong and Mordo, get pushed aside.
It can’t be a Marvel movie without a sidekick. James Roads, Sam Smith, and now Mordo and Wong. Mordo is a nuisance since he defects from the sorcerers due to their time bending. The after credits scenes show his true motives once he defected.
Don’t get me wrong, though, Doctor Strange has some amazing moments. It’s packed with humorous one-liners (reminiscent of Guardians of the Galaxy) and some excellent action packed scenes. Blend that with the music and the visually stunning magic and you’ve got another win for the MCU.
Be sure to see Doctor Strange showing in theaters now. Catch it before it’s gone!