Synopsis: Benedict Cumberbatch starts as Stephen Strange, a gifted but egocentric surgeon who, after a tragic accident that leaves him incapable of performing surgery, leaves fellow surgeon Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) behind and travels to Nepal to find The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), an immortal sorceress that protects the world from mystical threats. The Ancient One enlists Strange, and her fellow sorcerers Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofer) and Wong (Benedict Wong) to stop her former-student-turned-enemy Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) from summing the evil Dormammu.
Review: This is a good movie. Whew that was easy. But in all seriousness, it really is.
The Good: Benedict Cumberbatch (Benny D from here on out) is really good as Stephen Strange. He’s a great mixture of confident, egotistical, funny, and emotional. McAdams also pops comically, and is a great counter to Benny D. Ejiofer is really nuanced, and does a great job of being the stoic moral conscious one moment, and witty the next. Wong is scary and hilarious, and I really hope this part leads to him getting more high-profile parts. Mikkelsen continues to combine charisma and evil, which is delightful. And finally, Swinton, who brings a lot grace and presence to the Ancient One, on top of being a kick ass warrior.
The visual effects are probably the best part of the film. It’s frankly mind bending. I found myself leaning back from the screen on occasion because it was so trippy, and that’s not a bad thing. It really tests the limits of the viewer to both understand and follow what they are seeing, which ties in perfectly to the plot and setting. I’m sure it is even better in 3D.
The plot is simple, and has certainly been done: it’s another origin film. But this is a great example of what an origin film should do. It introduced the character quickly, gets right into the story, and doesn’t spend time trying to convince you of their character. Just roll with it and enjoy the ride.
The Bad: The pacing is strange, it goes by really quickly at some points, slows down hard at others. McAdams is not on screen enough to really capitalize on her performance; think Natalie Portman in Thor 2. Same goes for Mikkelsen, who falls in the same pit of most Marvel villains: very charismatic actor who is not given enough room to really show it, or make us care about the character. His character also falls in the same poorly written trap of having to be awesome enough to kill the bigger side characters, but then gets defeated by the weaker titular hero because…titular. The combat cinematography is too close at times: it’s hard to tell what is happening or who is where, and while that works for the trippy combat scenes, not so much for the traditional ones.
The Ugly: Let’s address the elephant in the room: Tilda Swinton and the issue of whitewashing. First, let me be clear: this casting was white washing. Sorry if you don’t like that, but, there’s the door. Now, the fact that the character of the Ancient One was whitewashed has NOTHING to do with the performance or talent that Swinton brought, because again: she was really was great. But that doesn’t mean for one-second that this character couldn’t have or shouldn’t have been played by an Asian actress. Because the movie’s excuse, that she’s Celtic, NEVER comes into play. It is mentioned to explain why the ancient person found in Kathmandu, Nepal is…white. And frankly, that doesn’t work. If you want Swinton to play an immortal Celtic sorceress, awesome. Let’s set that up then, have her use lots of Celtic runes, dress in some sort of Celtic robes, have a Sanctum in Scotland, etc. Instead, they kept the culture of the original Ancient One (an older Asian man) and applied it her. This is problematic, and should be criticized.
Summary: Doctor Strange is a good movie. It’s visually stunning, has a great cast, and really stands out as an exemplary origin story. It’s also got some weird pacing, some hard to track combat scenes, another underwhelming Marvel villain, and a lack of screen time from the secondary cast. Tilda Swinton’s performance should be seen, but the problematic casting should be criticized.
Verdict: Definitely see it, possibly in 3D. It’s another good showing from Marvel.