By Josh Pederson
The 2016 holiday movie season is about half way through, and while it’s had it’s ups and downs, depending on the types of films you like to watch, it’s definitely had some titles worth mentioning. And with Oscar season in full swing, studios and filmmakers are getting ambitious with releases like Brad Pitt’s Allied and Casey Affleck’s Manchester by the Sea, which have both received reviews worthy of the talent within them. But what about the movies that aren’t striving for Oscars or looking to straddle that line between emotional and boring? After all, films about oppression and overcoming diversity are so common these days, the market is beginning to feel over-saturated, much like the Christian film market did after the release of God’s Not Dead back in 2014. Point being, sometimes people enjoy going to the movies not to critique them or to ride their emotional roller coasters, but to simply be entertained. And Marvel’s Doctor Strange did just that.
What movie season is complete without the juggernaut film studio that is Marvel? Or is it Disney? It’s easy to get those two confused. One day there will be a battle royal between Apple and Disney for World Domination and we’ll all either be stuck wearing black turtle necks or mouse ears, but until that day, let’s not get all anti-corporate. Doctor Strange marks the 14th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And much like Ant- Man, the follow up to 2015s ensemble film Avengers: Age of Ultron, the follow up to Captain America: Civil War was an unexpected gem. Beginning somewhere in the aftermath of Avengers: Age of Ultron and ending sometime before or after Captain America: Civil War, this film opens up a new side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe only previously touched on in the Thor films and Guardians of the Galaxy – if you want to get technical. However, unlike the previous films in the MCU, Doctor Strange can stand completely on its own and still mesmerize audiences who haven’t seen any of the other films or read a comic book in their life. It’s simple, yet, complicated, but it’s a visual feast.
For those of you who know comic books, you’ll know that Doctor Strange revolves around a neurosurgeon named Stephen Strange, who after a car accident loses the ability to use his fingers. There goes the Upper Manhattan apartment, expensive cars and attractive women with loose morals. When modern medicine fails him, he looks to drastic methods of healing, in the form of spiritual enlightenment, mind over matter, that sort of thing. What, at first, looks like another dead end not only gives him the healing he’s looking for, but opens his eyes to a war against dark forces looking to destroy reality at the behest of a dark creature called Dormammu, who rules a dark plane of existence and has his eyes set on absorbing earth into the fold of eternal nothingness. The Ancient One with the help of a Stephen Strange, Wong, Mordo and the other sorcerers who have devoted their lives to cause are the only thing standing in between Dormammu and his prize. Without giving too much away, the plot takes his “strange” origin story and throws it into the mix with an already raging battle between the sorcerers and Dormammu and another sorcerer named Kaecilius, who has been seduced by darkness. Oh, and as it turns out, the Eye of Agmotto, the relic that the sorcerers use to bend time is an Infinity Stone. With the exception that little nugget, there’s little to no mention of the greater world of super heroes that Strange exists in.
Though Doctor Strange was an ambitious project and looks visually stunning, the chances are high that without its star-studded cast, we would have seen an entirely different and possibly not-so great film. First of all, props to Scott Derrickson, whose previous directorial credits include a long list of b-grade horror movies that enthusiasts forgot about soon after release. Going from lower budget movies like Sinister, Hellraiser Inferno, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the not-so-small budgeted The Day the Earth Stood Still, Scott Derrickson was not only responsible with the source material, he used to it paint a masterpiece that critics and filmgoers alike won’t soon forget. And then there’s Benedict Cumberbatch, a man who needs no introduction because his classically trained acting talents have already won him more awards than anybody has time to count. Then there’s Rachel McAdams, who took the stereotype of a Marvel heroine and not only shattered the mold, but rebuilt it completely. If there’s one group that’s been misrepresented in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s women.
Don’t get me wrong, this reviewer likes to see Scarlet Johansson kicking butt in tight leather just as much as the next man, but let’s be serious for a minute, females in the MCU have never really served as anything other sex objects. But hey, feel free to prove that wrong. And you can’t mention the talent in this film without talking about Mads Mikkelsen, who despite his impressive range of acting talents took a part that not only wasn’t worthy of his acting caliber, but it was a rather disappointing and – some would argue – unnecessary character to throw into the mix. However, between Doctor Strange and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, set to release on December 16, he won’t exactly be hurting for a paycheck for a while. To round the cast out there was Chiwetel Ejiofor (Inside Man, 12 Years a Slave, Serenity), Benedict Wong (Marco Polo, Prometheus, The Martian) and Tilda Swinton (Constantine, The Chronicles of Narnia, Moonrise Kingdom) whose casting caused quite a stir among keyboard warriors, who believed that the part of The Ancient One should have gone to a more diverse actor. Well, foot meet mouth . . . she owned that part, and Marvel always has a plan.
All-in-all Doctor Strange was not only a welcomed addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was also a nice change of pace. Who doesn’t love witty dialogue more explosions than you can keep track of? Not many people. However, every once in a while, it’s nice to watch a film that shows you something new and has a little more substance to it. Doctor Strange does just that. And rumor has it that it’s close to grabbing a nominee for an Oscar for best visual effects. That being said, if you’re looking for a film full of magic and intrigue to keep that buzz going from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, then Doctor Strange is definitely worth your time. And having already taken in a whopping $579.7 million, it looks like the new Sorcerer Supreme will be around for a while.