Doctor Strange, directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister), tells the story of Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a gifted neurosurgeon who is wrapped up in his own vanity. After karma executes Stephen’s fate he suffers irreversible damage to his hands, destroying his valued medical career. His desperate search for physical healing takes him to the Far East to a place called Kamar-Taj. There he meets the “Ancient One,” (Tilda Swinton) a mystical witch with undisputed power, and Baron Mordor (Chewitel Ejiofor) one of the chief masters of the Kamar-Taj temple. Strange believes the Ancient One is the key to healing his hands and returning back to the medical field. Little does he know he is smack in the middle of a war between good and evil. His visit to Kamar-Taj will be a turning point for Stephen Strange. He chooses to learn the ways of the arts but isn’t sure if this magical war is a good fit for him.
The Ancient One… It’s just odd that she’s a bald white woman parading around the homogeneous country of Nepal, although the film claims she is of Celtic origin. The mere sight of her is problematic and doesn’t make any sense. Why would a Celtic woman travel to the edge of the world to open up a Full-Metal Alchemist karate school? When Tilda Swinton was cast, Marvel made it seem like a revolutionary choice. The excuse is that she was dispelling the myths of the “Fu Manchu/Dragon Lady” tropes that cinema so often perpetuates.
Instead of writing a decent role for an Asian actress, they give it to a white woman and tell fans they are dispelling Asian myths? Absolute insanity! What makes this worse is there is nothing there to make Swinton’s performance stand out. She brings nothing special that an Asian actress could not have done. I guess it gives the ancient white woman a bit of an edge to be hanging out and appropriating East Asian culture. shrug
Then there is Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is just the rich, white, male asshole, and a fanboy’s wet dream. With great power comes great responsibility BLAH BLAH BLAH… We’ve been down this road over and over again. For all those times I complained about the DCEU’s down to Earth, gritty approach, it does serve a purpose. In some ways, those DCEU characters are far more relatable even if they aren’t written that well. Marvel does have Steve Rogers who came from humble beginnings, but must everyone be a rich, white, cis-male, sarcastic douche nozzle who hates authority?
Then the weakness of the character is followed up by some of the same pacing issues — like many other origin stories in the MCU in that the hero instantly falls into this gargantuan struggle between good and evil just after completing his/her training. Cumberbatch is a breath of stank, stale air, and a total bore. He sleepwalks through the part and seems there for a paycheck.
The only sane character here is Baron Mordo (the Black guy, how surprisingly). He is wise and counsels Stephen throughout his journey. He’s a traditionalist who doesn’t believe in interrupting the natural balance of the world. He is the only person who is initially not acting out of selfishness. He believes in the power of redemption and really goes to bat for Stephen, even when the Ancient One doesn’t want to be bothered with him.
By the end of the film, Mordo comes to terms with the way things really are and decides to set his own path apart from Stephen Strange. I was glad to see him separate himself from the goofy cast of characters he had to associate with. Of course, this means they’re setting up to be the villain in the next installment. Speaking of villains…
Marvel still has a problem with its villains. Kacilius (Mads Mikkelson) is yet another asshole who wants to disrupt the balance and plunge the world into darkness for a chance at immortality. Unfortunately, as a villain Kacilius is useless and the Studio 54 smokey, sparkly eye makeup doesn’t help him look intimidating either. Mikkelsen has proven himself to be a master at villainous roles, but his role in Doctor Strange is so thin and flimsy, it’s a waste of his talents. Then the big bad is just another CGI generated character who talks too much. Before the audience discovers why this villain is so powerful, they acquiesce. The villains are never engaging enough for the audience to be invested. I’m so over this from Marvel.
Despite all of its flaws, there are good moments in Doctor Strange. Tilda Swinton and Benedict Wong deliver some funny one liners. Rachel McAdams, although wasted in what amounts to basically a cameo, provides some good laughs as well. Due to Scott Derrickson’s background, it is easy to spot the horror elements he incorporated into the film, which is a nice bit of filmmaking. The goal of Scott Derrickson is to suffocate the audience with visual splendor. Imagine Christopher Nolan’s Inception on speed. He has done a superb job with the visuals, but it can be overpowering at times. Not because it was too much to look at, but because it was like CGI overdose to mask cinematic flaws. The villains are still poorly written, and I don’t think Marvel knows how to fix this problem.
They need to get their shit together over at Marvel. Time to come with something better!