Doctor Strange (2016)

brooke It’s time for another Marvel movie! But with magic!

casey Gotta be honest, I’ve been teetering on the edge of superhero fatigue for a while now. Not that the Marvel movies have been bad–they’ve mostly been decent to very good–but rather, it feels like they’ve settled into a predictable rhythm of goofy but shallow characters and predictable plots. So with that preface…I still kinda liked Dr Strange.

brooke I’m sure we could turn this into yet another thinkpiece on how overdone superhero movies are, but the studios are going to keep making them as long as we keep paying for them… and I definitely did not mind paying for this one.

casey It’s got some of the usual Marvel weaknesses, but it makes up for them with some genuinely interesting ideas that go just far enough in a new direction to be worthwhile.

brooke Doctor Strange embraces weirdness in a way few superhero films do. It’s less about punching hard and more about punching with magic, and it brings the Marvel Universe into another dimension (literally) much in the way that Guardians of the Galaxy did. The universe that began with Iron Man still has a few tricks up its sleeve.

casey This one tells the story of Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), another brilliant but arrogant loner–this time a surgeon–who suffers severe injuries that rob him of his motor skills. Unable to repair himself with science, Strange takes a chance on an old fashion orientalist journey, seeking out a mysterious healer in Kathmandu, Nepal. There he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a Celtic ninja who actually leads an order of sorcerers charged with protecting our very plane of existence. As he must, Strange soon joins the order and finds himself embroiled in a caper involving a rogue magic ninja named Kaecilius and a forbidden spell with world-threatening consequences.

brooke The general nefariousness (and related consequences) took itself a little too serious for my taste… but it manages to work out overall, giving the movie a campy feel without actually looking campy.

casey The details of the story don’t really matter, to be honest, but after a slow opening things start to come together in some really clever ways, with scenes that include a spectral plane battle in a hospital operating room, some Inception-style city bending, and a finale that involves time moving simultaneously forward and backward. It’s all a lot of fun, is what I’m saying.

brooke I was worried that the city folding would be too much like Inception, but it manages to do it in a way that feels brand new.
Maybe the only part of that I didn’t like was when Strange first arrives at Kamar-Taj (the magic order) and is shown a series of trippy visions that felt a little heavy-handed.

casey Meanwhile, I thought Cumberbatch was good, even if he can’t quite pull off a Brooklyn accent. None of the other characters really stood out, although Kaecilius gets a few good scenes. I think what I appreciated most is that Strange avoids the typical boring Marvel climax, with a resolution that goes way beyond punching and shooting.

brooke I think Cumberbatch is starting to suffer from typecasting (brilliant but arrogant is literally his only role) but at the same time he worked well in this mystic world.
Strange also has an ex-girlfriend, Christine (Rachel McAdams), a doctor who floats around in the background during a couple key points of the movie, but I was disappointed how underused she was. Throughout the movie there is very little female influence, as Swinton is about as androgynous as she gets and the only other women are henchmen and extras.

casey There’s also not much beneath the surface in general, no exploration of science vs reason or anything like that. Strange, initially the hardheaded empiricist, pretty much accepts his new magical milieu immediately (which I guess might be expected in a world where literal Norse gods exist). There’s really not attempt to explain how this magic stuff fits in with the larger Marvel universe, but again, that’s comics. Dr Strange didn’t really cure my superhero fatigue, but by doing its own thing it mostly sidestepped it.

brooke I’d agree with that sentiment. I really enjoyed it. I’m not sure if it breaks into my top 5 Marvel movies, but it’s easily in the top 10. It was different and it had a lot of humor despite having a more serious tone than some other Marvel movies. It has urgency but it’s still enjoyable.

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