In Review: Doctor Strange (2016)

Review by Tim Robins

WARNING: SPOILERS

Doctor Strange (2016) - Poster

The Film: From Marvel Studios comes Doctor Strange, directed by Scott Derrickson, written by Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill; the story of world-famous neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange whose life changes forever after a horrific car accident robs him of the use of his hands. When traditional medicine fails him, he is forced to look for healing, and hope, in an unlikely place – a mysterious enclave known as Kamar-Taj. Before long Strange – armed with newly acquired magical powers – is forced to choose whether to return to his life of fortune and status or leave it all behind to defend the world as the most powerful sorcerer in existence.

The Review: The Doctor Strange movie is OK, but not, for my money, strange enough. It certainly didn’t benefit from being seen on the small screen that my cinema allocates to 2D screenings (It’s hard to believe The Odeon, Brighton, UK, once had the biggest screen in Britain!). I should have brought binoculars.

The movie combines a lot of kaleidoscopic effects with a few nods to the work of comic book artist Steve Ditko who defined the Doctor Strange universe. In a way, the film is a triumph of visuals over plot, which actually mirrors the comic book. As far as I’m aware, Marvel has never used Strange to explore existing magical systems or Christian demonology, instead relying on a few nonsense phrases penned by co-creator Stan Lee. Lee himself admitted he never expected to have to actually explain where the Many Moons of Majipoor were, or who The Vishanti were.

As a result, Doctor Strange’s ‘magic’ has tended to involve firing magic bolts at his enemies. The movie’s concept of magic is some gobbledygook about spiritual manipulation of quantum physics, with a bit of Harry Potter thrown in, in the form of a semi-comedic cloak of levitation that switches from a cute puppy to a rottweiler, beating one of the villain’s hench people to death. The downside of this comes with some laugh out loud dialogue (Sling Rings anybody?) and, when Strange finally has a heart to heart with his mentor, The Ancient One, it plumbs unforeseen depths of banality.

A lot of the audience got really restless at this point. If the movie is like an hallucinogenic drug, this was its come down.

Benedict Cumberbatch certainly looks the part of Doctor Stephen Strange, the arrogant but brilliant surgeon who turns to mysticism to heal his hands after they are wrecked in a car crash, Tilda Swinton (a bizarre casting choice) plays The Ancient One, who teaches Strange that there’s more to life than luxury apartments and a draw display of rotating watches. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Mordo, The Ancient One’s star pupil, until Strange comes along and reveals that his mentor is not all she seems. As a Doctor Strange fan, I was happy to see references to the character’s slim mythology and a surprise appearance by Dormammu, ruler of the Dark Dimension. As a throw away gag, some of the human villains are transformed into Mindless Ones as they are swept up into his realm.

In contrast, I didn’t welcome the continuity tie in dialogue that positioned the heroes as Earth’s supernatural Avengers. Perhaps a different director (Del Toro?) would have got to grips with the magic stuff. Since Thor and family have been retconned as aliens, I don’t see, as an end credit sequence suggests, a supernatural threat. Similarly, if the good Doctor’s magic is simply the manipulation of the quantum universe, I don’t see how he can claim the title of “Sorcerer Supreme”.

The origin by numbers story construction didn’t deliver anything narratively special. Strange’s character was basically Tony Stark in a frock. Rather than being strange, Doctor Strange felt a bit too familiar.

Tim Robins

Dear reader, a review is an opinion, not a statement of fact – other opinions are available, including yours

Doctor Strange (2016) is available on a variety of streaming services to rent or buy, and on Blu-Ray and DVD (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)

Marvel Select: Doctor Strange - Under The Knife (Panini UK, 2022)

Marvel Select: Doctor Strange – Under The Knife, published by Panini UK, by Mark Waid and Kev Walker, is available from all good newsagents now – buy it here from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

A new chapter begins for Doctor Stephen Strange thanks to the miraculous regeneration of his damaged hands. With his nimble fingers once more able to perform the most delicate surgical procedures, the world-famous surgeon can now return to the operating theatre. But what does this mean for his life as a master of the mystic arts? Can he be both a neurosurgeon and the Sorcerer Supreme? All magic comes at a cost, and it seems that this is one boon the good doctor will be paying for in the most deadly way!

Doctor Strange merchandise and more from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

Doctor Strange graphic novels from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

Doctor Strange (2016) on Marvel.com

Watch more from Marvel’s Doctor Strange on Marvel’s official YouTube channel

A freelance journalist and Doctor Who fanzine editor since 1978, Tim Robins has written on comics, films, books and TV programmes for a wide range of publications including Starburst, Interzone, Primetime and TV Guide. His brief flirtation with comics includes ghost inking a 2000AD strip and co-writing a Doctor Who strip with Mike Collins. Since 1990 he worked at the University of Glamorgan where he was a Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Media Studies and the social sciences. Academically, he has published on the animation industry in Wales and approaches to social memory. He claims to be card carrying member of the Politically Correct, a secret cadre bent on ruling the entire world and all human thought.



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