Today we’re going to talk a little bit about the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Doctor Strange.
(Those of you who know me are welcome to stop reading now; it only gets more fangirly from here.)
Oh, and SPOILERS!
*ahem* Okay, ready?
I freakin’ adore this movie. I adored it enough to go see it four times in theaters, to set up my first ever comic book pull list at my local comic book store so I can keep up with the latest Doctor Strange comics, to scour all libraries in my vicinity for omnibuses of older Doctor Strange comics, and to flood my Pinterest boards with Doctor Strange artwork and screen shots. As a friend pointed out to me, I have a bit of a problem. (Sorry; I have an addictive personality and this just set it off. Big time.)
A bit of backstory: I knew nothing about the character of Doctor Strange before going into the theater. In fact, the film was barely on my radar screen. One of my friends expressed some surprise at this because: “Marvel movie + wizard + Benedict Cumberbatch = right up Kat’s alley.” And that is a fair assumption. But I try to avoid trailers because they spoil movies, and I desperately don’t want to be disappointed by upcoming films so I try not to get my hopes up. To do that, I pretend that they don’t exist. And, like Ant-Man, Doctor Strange was a Marvel character I had never really heard of before. I had heard the name… I knew he used magic… but that was about it. And I must say, going into a movie more or less blind is fantastic because I had no idea what was going to happen next, and that makes for a wonderful experience. A huge thank you to Laughing Ninja (who loved Doctor Strange before it was cool) and her husband for taking me to the theater to see it.
I will not claim Doctor Strange is a cinematic masterpiece. I will not claim it is the best movie of all time forever and ever amen. I am sure there are plenty of flaws and threads that can be picked at until the entire thing unravels… but that’s not why I’m here. That’s not what I want to talk about today. Because for me, this film encapsulates everything that I love about story and character and why Marvel has been so successful with the Cinematic Universe.
Rather like with the first Avengers movie, I’m not exactly sure why Doctor Strange appeals to me so much, although I will try to pin a few things down. I’ve admitted before that, as a kid, I was never into comic books. I thought they were silly and campy and, frankly, uninteresting. There are still a lot of things about superheros that don’t interest or appeal to me, especially in the older comics which often have wooden characters and cringe-worthy plots combined with garish colors that tend to clash and burn. The Avengers just clicked for me and sent me down the path to comic book geekdom where I’ve happily remained ever since, and Doctor Strange has continued this trend. These modern incarnations do an excellent job of hooking my interest and pulling me into a hither-to unexplored dimension.
Doctor Strange both satisfied and defied expectations. And that isn’t just because we now have the technology to make superpowers look awesome rather than just awkward or laughable. While the visual effects in Doctor Strange were both novel and fascinating (the kaleidoscopic effects in the Mirror Dimension are just mind-blowing), the real strength of the story lies in the characters. The casting is phenomenal; I loved everybody in it. Despite the controversy that surrounded her casting, I thought Tilda Swinton made an excellent Ancient One. Chiwetel Ejiofor, who I recognized as the Operative from the movie Serenity, was far more engaging as Mordo than the comic book version. Rachel McAdams was great as Dr. Christine Palmer, and I was especially happy to see that Benedict Cumberbatch made an amazing Doctor Strange. (I always start to worry when big-name actors get cast because I’m afraid they might have been picked for name recognition rather than because they were right for the part. Of course, this is Benedict Cumberbatch we’re talking about, so I should have known better, but moving on.)
Like so many of the Marvel movies, Doctor Strange strikes that hard-to-find balance between high-stakes drama and humor. It was an origin story and a redemption story all at once, and we know how much of a sucker I am for redemption stories. I was deeply invested in what was happening, but I was also cracking up at various lines and exchanges throughout the film. (I love Wong and Strange’s interactions. “Try me, Beyoncé.”) But what is most amazing to me is that they were able to, in under 2 hours, show a convincing transformation of a highly skilled but highly selfish man into someone who was willing to die over and over for eternity in order to keep the Earth safe. That’s a lot of ground to cover and yet they pulled it off brilliantly. (They even managed to imbue a piece of brightly colored cloth with character to make it hysterical, protective, and sweet. Freakin’ love the Cloak of Levitation!)
Most of all, I think I loved Doctor Strange because I left the theater feeling happy. This deep bubbling joy was tied directly to what I’d just seen, to the story of a man who had everything, lost everything, and through hard work and sacrifice became a better and stronger person. That kind of optimism and determination is precious, and I am glad to savor every second of it.