Doctor Strange - Benedict Cumberbatch

Marvel’s Doctor Strange is now in theaters, marking the 14th film in the Marvel cinematic universe, and the first in a hopeful new franchise for the comic book movie studio. With the title character, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, already confirmed to make a return in The Avengers: Infinity War, it’s safe to assume that we’re going see more of the superhero. But will fans want that?

Doctor Strange is on par to make at least $75 million this weekend, maybe as much as $85 million, but does Marvel’s new franchise deliver the goods? The answer is yes, but it still has some shortcomings that keep it from being truly great. The good news is that it lays the groundwork for a promising new character in the Marvel cinematic universe, accompanied by some mesmerizing visuals and action.

After the jump, read our thoughts on Doctor Strange and sound off in the comments with your own, but beware of MAJOR SPOILERS from here on out. You’ve been warned!

First up, our own Peter Sciretta was pretty high on Doctor Strange, writing, “Doctor Strange’s action set pieces make an MC Escher paintings look tame. Some really great, clever, inventive stuff. Worth the 3D ticket alone. Cumberbatch owns Doctor Strange, the movie is funnier than I was expecting, a throwback to a pre-MCU Iron Man-like standalone story.”

In addition, /Filmcast co-host Jeff Cannata had some high praise, saying, “It is better than I could have ever hoped for. Among the very best Marvel films. It dazzles and entertains throughout. Remember when The Matrix made you rethink what was possible in an action sequence? Dr Strange does that 4 or 5 times.”

Plus, Jack Giroux had this to say: “Doctor Strange is as enjoyable as Ant-Man and Captain America: The First Avenger, which are two of Marvel’s better, more streamlined, and more distinct movies. Scott Derrickson’s film has a great, charismatic and flawed hero, exciting and playful set pieces, some good laughs, the most stirring Marvel score to date, and a few excellent actors elevating thin supporting roles. Stephen Strange is just as fun to watch as the Sorcerer, too, making the first hour of setup feel like a breeze.”

Angie Han wasn’t nearly as keen on the movie, though, writing on Twitter, “Doctor Strange is not terrible, but it is the first time I’ve walked of an MCU movie thinking ‘Y’know what, I think I’m good on the sequels.'” She went on to say that Benedict Cumberbatch has a hard time being a better Robert Downey Jr. than Robert Downey Jr., and that the movie might have been better served by putting Chiwetel Ejiofor (who plays Mordo) in the lead role instead. But she still she thought the visuals were great like everyone else.

Personally, I found Doctor Strange to be thoroughly entertaining, and for all the exposition that needs to be done in order to introduce audiences to the lesser known mystical side of the Marvel cinematic universe, the movie never feels boring. In fact, it moves at a rather fast pace, perhaps a little too fast.

Doctor Strange - Benedict Cumberbatch

It’s difficult to get a grasp on just how much time passes within the story, and that’s not just because Doctor Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto to manipulate time once or twice. We get the sense the Stephen Strange does his fair share of studying and practice (even using his astral form to study while his physical body sleeps), and he’s certainly a faster learner than most, being one of the most brilliant surgeons before his reckless car accident. But it would be nice to have an idea of just how long he was learning the sorcerer ways under the guidance of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).

In addition, perhaps the biggest shortcoming that Doctor Strange has is that the origin story feels extremely familiar. Part of this is because we’ve seen so many over the years in countless other superhero movies, and part of this is because many superhero origins are the same. This one has shades of Batman Begins as Strange heads off to somewhere in the Far East to discover himself and heal his wounds, both physically and metaphorically, but it also has shades of Iron Man because the character of Strange is such an arrogant, inconsiderate prick who has to come to terms with what it means to be a hero who cares about more than just himself. He’s basically like Hugh Laurie as Dr. House, but with mind-bending superpowers.

What makes Doctor Strange work better than it should is the fact that this origin story opens up a whole new facet of the Marvel universe. We get to see a new kind of warrior that uses magic to protect the Earth from threats that the Avengers have yet to encounter. Not even Loki has brought dark forces to our planet in the way that Doctor Strange does. While we do get a kind of “portal in the sky” plot device created by the villain, this threat comes from such a wild, trippy place (the multiverse) that it all feels new. The visuals of the mystical world are stunning, and they’ve even more mesmerizing and immersive if you see the movie in IMAX 3D. There’s such depth in certain sequences that you’ll feel like you’re on a theme park ride.

These visuals accompany some truly inventive action, the kind that rivals movies like The Matrix in their creativity while also borrowing from them. One fight in the Sanctum Santorum has a few moments that feel lifted straight out of the chateau fight in The Matrix Reloaded, but elsewhere the warped visuals and manipulated environments make all the difference in crafting action where almost anything is possible. The chase sequence in the mirror dimension of New York City is one of the best the Marvel cinematic universe has ever seen.

Doctor Strange - Benedict Cumberbatch

But the real praise should go to director Scott Derrickson and writer C. Robert Cargill for doing something entirely unexpected in the third act. While the climax features Earth being invaded by the Dark Dimension, a whole other plane of existence that lies beyond time and is controlled by a cosmic being named Dormammu, there’s no way for Doctor Strange to fight him as he would a villain like Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecelius. Instead, he uses a trick of time to keep the villain trapped in a time loop. All of this takes place in the Dark Dimension, which looks like a black light poster of the microscopic parts of the human body. It’s stunning, surprising, and one of the nerdiest things Marvel has done yet.

Doctor Strange may not be perfect (it still suffers from that typical villain problem), but it introduces enough refreshing elements to make the more derivative parts of a comic book origin story not feel so repetitive. The authenticity that every single performer brings to Doctor Strange makes the outlandish elements of the mystical world work better than I ever thought, even if they don’t make the humor work as well as it does in Marvel movies.

Even if this movie treads too familiar ground for some moviegoers, the opening of a whole new are of the Marvel cinematic universe is an exciting prospect for future installments, especially with the promise of more Chiwetel Ejiofor returning as a villain for the next installment.

Now it’s your turn. Sound off in the comments with your thoughts on Doctor Strange. Did you like it? Did you love it? Did you hate it? How was Benedict Cumberbatch? Tell us everything!

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