Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong
November 4th, 2016 (US Premiere)
Summary for Moms:
Superstar surgeon and overconfident jerk Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) suffers a traumatic accident which costs him the use of his hands and, thus, his career. Desperate to reclaim his abilities and against his common sense, Strange pursues a more mystical solution and journeys to the fabled city of Kamar-Taj: home to sorcerers trained by The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Under her tutelage, and helped by fellow sorcerers Wong (Benedict Wong) and Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Stephen Strange harnesses his magical abilities and comes into conflict with evil sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) who attempts to resurrect the dread lord Dormammu and plunge our dimension into a realm of pain and suffering.
Alright, I’m going to level with you guys. My mom and I watched Doctor Strange first. Before Civil War, before Avengers, before Iron Man. It was on Netflix and she thought it looked interesting. So we watched it just before I got the idea to start this blog. Sue me*.
…but that’s ancillary.
Doctor Strange is a traditional Marvel origin story, which plunges us into the depths of the mystical and magical: a heretofore unexplored concept in the MCU, because Thor doesn’t count. Since we watched it first, it also served as a great introduction to the Marvel movies as it features very little content that depends on what came before it. It is very similar to Iron Man in this respect, but falls a bit short of that movie’s perfection.
To his credit, Benedict Cumberbatch does a great job as Strange, although his American accent is a bit jarring. However, my mom didn’t recognize him until I pointed out that he was Sherlock, so I guess that’s another point in his favor. He plays the arrogant jerk well, as it’s a role he’s had experience with, and, once again draws comparisons to RDJ in Iron Man. Cumberbatch succeeds further when playing Strange after his car crash, where he transitions from arrogant to desperate to humbled. It was this learning and growing aspect of the character that my mom really enjoyed.
Post-Crash, Strange reluctantly enters the world of magic, characterized by physics bending visuals and cryptic lessons from Tilda Swinton. While I have criticized the movie for not going far enough with its magic (I expected Harry Potter levels of zaniness), my mom really enjoyed Strange’s journey through Kamar-Taj and the sense of culture that came with it. She appreciated a lot of the South Asian mysticism that was baked into the overall narrative. She was also in awe of the effects and enjoyed the sling-ring portal jumping quite a bit.
Once again, with some notable exceptions, a Marvel movie is just as good as its villain and this is where Doctor Strange stumbles. Strange becomes another in a long line of films to criminally underuse brilliant character actor and probable-villain-in-real-life Mads Mikkelsen. His turn as Kaecilius, while well-performed, as usual, is utterly forgettable. If I were to ask my mom about him today, a few months hence, she would have no idea what I was talking about. The character has no substance or style, only a single-minded goal to summon Dormammu. But my mom and I never really knew why. Still don’t.
Dormammu, comic book Strange’s greatest nemesis, is a very faint lurking presence throughout the movie and only appears at the end as a giant digital head. This is where the movie fell apart for me, and for my mom, too. She really wasn’t too enthralled with the time travel action scenes and they kind of confused her. I, on the other hand, liked them, but felt Dormammu was given the short shrift and was not well developed enough to earn what felt (and looked) like a Final Fantasy boss battle. Strange’s bargaining at the end was a nice bit of cleverness, but felt very tacked on.
Doctor Strange is a very competent movie that my mom was deeply immersed in up until things got really out there in the end. Overall, I think it suffered from its lack of initial zaniness, which may help it be more palatable as an intro to the MCU. But it also suffers from unmemorable and under-developed villains, which tend to be the sticking point for these kinds of movies. But at least we’ve got Baron Mordo established, who’ll definitely make for an interesting bad guy in Doctor Strange 2: Doctor Stranger Things.
Mom Rating (Out of Five):
- *Please do not sue me.
- My mom’s biggest takeaway from this film is that you shouldn’t drive and talk on the cellphone at the same time.
- My mom got a good laugh out of the bit where Strange compares Wong’s singular name to ‘Beyonce’, and then again later when Wong is listening to Beyonce. I didn’t think she knew who Beyonce was.
- My mom didn’t care that the Ancient One was white. I’m okay with it, too, because I think Tilda Swinton can play anything, but I see the issue.
Post Credit Sequences:
- At this point, my mom hadn’t seen any of the Thor movies, so the importance of the Ragnarok scene was lost on her.
- She was a bit confused by Mordo’s appearance at the end, but after I explained to her that it was setting up the conflict for future movies, she said ‘okay’.