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Doctor Strange Makes Magic

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Doctor Strange Makes Magic

Ben Atwater

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Franchise movie making has become one of the most profitable endeavors in the film industry.  Starting in 1977 with Star Wars, universe building has proven to yield returns of over a billion dollars a film. Franchises such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings capitalize on episodic installments in the stories of their larger universes.  Yet, no cinematic universe has been as consistent at producing critically acclaimed films, as well as profitable projects as Marvel Studios.  

Starting in 2008 with Iron Man, Marvel Studios has put out installments less than a year apart consistently since then.  Fourteen films in and we have had films about properties that were not even known before Marvel Studios made blockbuster movies about them.  While there have been two installments about The Avengers, and planned films for better known properties like Spiderman and Thor, Marvel studios has excelled in making lesser known properties like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man mainstream in popular culture through making quality films that stand out as not just good comic book movies, but good films on their own right. Marvel has done this again with their most recent film, Doctor Strange.

Based off the Marvel comic’s character that debuted in 1963, Doctor Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch from The Hobbit and The Imitation Game.  Cumberbatch plays the titular Doctor Stephen Strange, an arrogant surgeon who is gifted, yet has a larger than life ego.  Strange’s surgical expertise is unmatched, until he gets in a car crash that destroys the nerves in his hands, rendering his surgical skills useless.  From there, Strange searches far to regain his nerve endings in his hands, and turns to a cult of monks in Nepal.  There, Strange learns to access the energy of higher dimensions to manipulate matter.  This new found power brings a slew of new enemies to the table that Strange and his fellow monks must battle to save the world.

Doctor Strange is similar to Iron Man in that the hero stars as an arrogant individual, but through helping others with his newly acquired powers becomes more and more of a hero. The monks that Strange trains with are essentially wizards.  The storyline is nothing unseen before, following the classic “good-wizard-gone-bad” plot line. Yet, where Doctor Strange excels in is the visual representation of accessing the higher dimensions.  As all of the television ads have shown, the mandala like settings are beautifully rendered and best scene in IMAX 3D.  One scene in particular involves Strange going on a trans-dimensional trip where he flies through all sorts of cool graphics.  Think the quantum realm scene in Ant-Man, but extended for five minutes. This is one of the most stunning sequences seen in film recently.  

Cumberbatch is a likeable hero who clearly has the acting chops to secure himself along other Marvel stars like Chris Evans and Paul Rudd.  While hearing his American accent is off putting, Cumberbatch does a good enough job of differentiating himself from previous roles to create a dynamic new hero in the MCU.  Tilda Swinton costars as The Ancient One, an ancient sorcerer who leads the faction of monks that Strange trains with.  Swinton brings her all to the role as she always does, and might even top her performance in Snowpiercer. While The Ancient One is traditionally an Asian male in the comics, it is always a good thing to fill the Marvel universe with more strong female characters. Chiwetel Eljiofor and Benedict Wong also star as monks who are trained in the mystic arts. Both of tThe Martian actors hold their own as more than just simple wizards, and are characters with depth.

The script and direction of Doctor Strange is spot on.  Whereas past Marvel films like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers have suffered from too light of a tone given the grave circumstances, Doctor Strange excels in having moments of levity while still treating itself as seriously as inter-dimensional threats deserve to be treated.  

On the whole, Doctor Strange is among the top three solo Marvel films, along with Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger. It will be exciting to see where the character is taken in the future of the Marvel universe, especially given the post credits scene.  While much of the plot takes places within an hour, Doctor Strange is still an immensely satisfying movie going experience that merits multiple viewing experiences.

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Doctor Strange Makes Magic