I have feelings about Doctor Strange, but they’re hard to parse. Through the medium of this post, maybe we can discover the good and bad about the movie together.
Before anything, however, watch the movie. Even ignoring what I’ve said before on this blog, the movie is worth a watch, whether you think it’s any good. It has something to offer for people, and deciding if the movie is good or bad is a personal thing that takes watching it first. So, if you have seen it, we can take some time to talk about what we thought.
What was Strange?
For the purposes of this analysis, keep in mind that I really do enjoy the film. That being said, I think we can talk about some negative things first, or at least things I wasn’t impressed with. I just want to lay them on the table and get them out there.
Tilda Swinton was always a weird choice. I’m not saying she’s a bad actress, I think she played her role well. I’m all about them giving the role to a woman, that’s really cool, but playing someone aloof and wise doesn’t seem like the most difficult role ever played, and I felt like anyone could have been playing that role to the same effect. With that in mind, it seems strange that a white person would be handing down ancient secrets in an Eastern setting. The person that could have inherited those secrets could have been anyone, it wasn’t necessary for the person to be white, it just felt strange. A WOC would have been perfect, I think that would have had better flavor for what they were going for. Call me a millennial, but I’m always on the lookout for opportunities where WOCs can get some limelight in Hollywood. Look at Hidden Figures? WOC don’t necessarily make a film, but give them a chance in another big movie. Let’s keep this inclusion train rolling.
Mads Mikkelsen is cool actor and really nails villain stuff, for which he may now be forever typecast after Hannibal. But although I liked what he could do, I thought his motivations were a little weak. Yes, living forever when you have infinite power is a cool thing to shoot for, but we don’t really get his backstory or anything else about him, the story is much too concerned about Strange. They didn’t need a flashback, although that may have helped, but what they did reveal was cookie cutter. He was ‘broken’ or whatever and came looking for power, so his arc is parallel with Strange – all of that is interesting. But don’t just tell me about it. This is a movie – let me see his brokenness. I want to feel it when him and Strange are battling one another. One has given in to weakness, the other is fighting the weakness in himself. And I can say those things in a review or in a board room easily when discussing the characters, but it’s up to the directors, the actors, the whole team to sell that idea to me. And I wasn’t buying it. I liked him and thought he was cool, he did what he was written to do, but there could have been so much more. Hell, they made seven films out of Voldemort wanting the same thing, and look how people feel about him? That’s tough to do in a single movie, but I feel like there was more there we could have seen.
Rachel McAdams is a great actress, so it was a shame that her character had no chemistry with Strange. I understand that they implied a lot of their relationship, but it felt really forced. I really wanted to feel things between them, but she’s just there to make him better and then he’s gone and she’s left. What about what she wants? Who is she really? What is her character, what does she want? There’s not a lot to say about her because she doesn’t really say that much, she’s just there to pick up Strange whenever he falls, despite the fact he may not deserve it. Maybe that just makes her a super great person, but why is she like that? What does she want? What’s her purpose in the story other than just to be a romantic interest for Strange?
And then there’s the man himself. I like Benedict Cumberbatch, and for a lot of people, you live him or you hate him. I would have been down for a POC Strange, sure that would have been interesting, but Cumberbatch is a good actor, I feel like that point is unassailable. He’s got a niche in Sherlock, he was really compelling in The Imitation Game, I think he’s a good actor, and he just looks like Strange, let’s be real. So, the actor choice I could forgive, but that didn’t make me really like Strange. Call me a Marxist, but I struggle to feel bad for rich white men who also get to have amazing magical powers. If the beliefs of the film come from Eastern ideologies, balance is an important theme. What’s balanced about a guy who has everything, that has an accident like so many people do, then also get to have awesome powers?
I compared him to Spider-Man, perhaps unfairly, but they’re in the same universe. I haven’t seen the new one yet, but the story is almost universal now. Peter Parker is easy to root for – he’s an underdog, doesn’t come from a lot, and his origin smartly reveals what he had to sacrifice to understand his powers and become the person he is. You’re invested in his success, because the odds he faces are great and he doesn’t have a bunch of resources at his disposal other than his physical powers.
But Strange comes from all this money and prominence. He’s white, rich, has fast cars. He’s arrogant and self-absorbed. Tony Stark is much the same, but he already has abilities within him – his intelligence that leads to him making the suit. No one gives him that, he pulls it out of himself. But Strange just gets to go to magic school and taught this awesome knowledge even though he’s an asshole. Harry Potter earned his place in magic school, but I’m not sure Strange did. I was happy when they kicked him out, I wouldn’t have taught him thing, especially not opening his third eye. Let him beat on the door all day. Harry Potter lost his parents. Strange lost the precise use of his hands that let him be a surgeon, but he would never have to work again and could still live comfortably. But he still has his hands and they hurt a little, so far as we know. If they’re supposed to cause him crazy pain all the time like Dr. House’s leg or something, they didn’t do a great job showing that to me. It just seems like he has a tremor now. Get over yourself, dude.
That being said, the movie was really fun.
I can’t help myself – old books and ancient magical secrets just do it for me. The special effects were some of the coolest things I’ve watched on film, and I loved all the magic and mind-bending set pieces. The characters could have been better, but they bounced off each other in interesting ways, and there were moments that made me laugh, people I liked. I thought Mordo was interesting, and his character arc really made sense by the end of the film, I think he’s going to be interesting in the future. Wong was funny, so there were definitely characters I thought were fun. The magic system made sense for the world, I loved the “universal source code” idea they used.
And the fights were just cool, I can’t help it. Turning back time was super neat, the spells in open air and the magic weapons were neat, the dimension hopping, the wizard duels, the cloak, the fight on the astral plane. All really great ideas, I just wanted more. If they were that creative with the cool moments for the movie, I feel like they could have really opened up about the characters and brought some better ideas for them too. I kinda like the MvC Dormamu look, I was excited to see him walking around and looking cool, but what they did was interesting too. The time loop was a neat idea, and I would have put more weight on those scenes to show how much time was passing, but the idea was there at the very least.
Although I thought Strange could have had a better character, I think he’ll have some good chemistry with the Avengers when we get there. With his romantic interest and no time spent building their relationship, it was weak. But the Avengers all have movies behind them (minus Widow, which is a shame), so that time is there. They had some good dialogue in the movie, so seeing him hanging around with Tony, Steve Rogers, Widow, and all those people will be really fun, I’m looking forward to it.
I’m done giving movies a number, I’ve always tried to show how meaningless a rating system was from the very beginning. Just know, it’s a good movie with some great ideas, and I really liked it. It’s a stepping stone to something better, I hope.