I had reservations going into Dr. Strange. As a Marvel hero he always felt a little out of place to me.
That’s for more than one reason as well. Most Marvel heroes have some pseudo-scientific explanation for the origin of their power; Dr. Strange is pure magic. doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the world.
But the problems don’t stop there. Dr. Strange’s powers, with their magical origin, don’t have clear limits.
We know what Spiderman can do. He has the proportional strength of a spider, can walk on walls, sense danger, and use his webs.
Dr. Strange doesn’t have limits. He is as strong or as weak as the plot requires him to be. Additional strength comes from mystical items when he goes up against foes who are usually stronger than him, but still, his power is dictated by the plot more than by established constraints.
Every movie/story does this to a certain extent, but the Dr. Strange comics never hid it well enough for me to enjoy reading them.
The movie still suffers from this problem, so let’s get into it.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Stephen Strange, an accomplished and narcissistic surgeon.
Strange gets in a car accident which ruins his hands, effectively ending his career as a surgeon.
Desperate to recover his old life, Strange journeys to a monastery in Asia after Western medicine fails him.
At the monastery he is trained to use magic by the Ancient One played by Tilda Swinton.
The Ancient One and the other monks defend the world against eldritch threats. Dormamu, one of these threats, has corrupted a previous disciple of the Ancient One’s. This disciple now seeks the end of the world (for a thinly justified reason, but at least the writers justified it).
Strange must stop them from unsealing Dormamu. He is an inexperienced novice though, so he defeats his opponents using, you guessed it, mystical items!
SPOILER WARNING: I’m gonna talk about the climactic fight with Dormamu.
Dr. Strange’s “bargain” with Dormamu is bullshit. Who’s going to give up first, the mortal who barely knows what he’s doing or the ageless god of destruction?
Add in the fact that Strange is being perpetually tortured. Or the fact that Dormamu could probably have broken the time loop by taking the glove or amulet from Strange. Even just not killing him might’ve broken the loop.
Why would Dormamu be the first to give up in this context? The writers could’ve answered these questions, but they didn’t. As clever and interesting as this sequence was, it doesn’t hold up well to the internal logic of the movie.
END SPOILER WARNING
The special effects of the movie were stunning. The magic fights, the shifting Escher-like scenery, all of it was great. Perhaps even nauseating for some.
The thin romantic sub plot was… simple and entertaining. It didn’t add much, but it didn’t take much away from the movie either.
I liked the movie well enough, but it certainly wasn’t as fun as the other Marvel movies. My distaste for the main character stayed with me.
I was never able to fully suspend my sense of disbelief and neither were the others who saw the movie with me.
I think that’s ultimately why Dr. Strange didn’t work for me. Magic without constraints isn’t exciting because it’s hard to really believe the characters are in peril.
I’d still recommend this movie to fans of the Dr. Strange comics or to die hard fans of the Marvel movies. Even people who just want to see a decent action movie will enjoy the stunning special effects. Everyone else, save your money for Rogue One.