Think back to when you first saw Guardians of the Galaxy. Remember when you thought that it was so unlike any of the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe films? That it was hard to imagine how or why it fit into the overarching franchise?
Like all of Marvel’s films, Doctor Strange gives us a hero who, despite their flaws, is likable and interesting. We have the typical Marvel humor and, of course, a Stan Lee cameo. We have flashy fight scenes and epic music. But what sets Doctor Strange among the best films in the franchise is its ability to layer conflict and characterization while still staying out of the well-established Avengers limelight.
As any self-respecting superhero story, the film relies heavily on tried and true archetypes. Archetypes that we know, recognize, and understand because they are part of the very essence of storytelling. Stephen, like Iron Man, Thor, and all the others, begins his journey to self-discovery when he leaves his comfort zone. However, Stephen’s greatest strengths are also what make him weak and egotistical. He can’t become a hero until the one thing that sets him apart from others is ripped away in a brutal accident. It takes a while, but he eventually is willing to change himself in order to do what is right.
From Benedict Cumberbatch’s multifaceted Stephen Strange to Tilda Swinton’s gender-swapped and race-swapped Ancient One to Mads Mikkelsen’s domineering Kaecilius, each and every character we encounter has many motivations and is uniquely complex. Sure, Stephen is our hero, but he spends 99.9% of the movie not wanting to help anyone but himself and his career. The Ancient One wants to save the world, but all the while has dark secrets. Kaecilius may be our villain, but he ultimately wants to give everyone immortality and what he believes will be a good and happy life. Their wants and desires are innately human—but their conflicts, both internal and external, exist in the realm of sorcery.
That doesn’t mean to say that the movie doesn’t have it’s problems. Despite Swinton’s memorable performance, the fact remains that the Ancient One was originally written as a character of Tibetan ancestry. Rachel McAdams’ character of Christine Palmer is woefully underutilized. And many of the explanations of the different dimensions and existing powers of the universe feel forced and stilted. But it’s easy to forget Doctor Strange‘s shortcomings when the Cloak of Levitation is one of the best things to ever make it onto the silver screen.
In a nutshell, forget everything you think you know when you enter the world of Doctor Strange. No one is exactly who or what they appear to be. The way magic and dimensions work in this universe basically throws physics right out the window (but makes for really amazing fight sequences). And in the end, we have a hero who chooses the difficult path instead of the one that would grant him the life he wants.
Make sure that you stay for the credits, as we get an amazing reveal for upcoming Marvel films! Already seen Doctor Strange? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Until next time,
The Collected Mutineer