November 2016 saw the release of Marvel’s Doctor Strange film. Stephan Strange is unknown to the average fan, who does not gravitate to a mystical hero, preferring the ripped spandex wearing superhuman to receive their adoration. Strange is not a bulging behemoth, nor he is an alluring alien; he is a mystical hero that exemplifies the phrase ‘knowledge is power’. I’m not too big on spoilers. So, what follows is a synopsis of some key elements of the film.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Dr. Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon that becomes a master of the mystic arts. More about the person of Strange later. Cumberbatch plays the role of Stephen Strange superbly. Cumberbatch accurately portrays just how much of a boss Strange was as a neurosurgeon; and how Strange relished every bit of it. Making Strange’s fall from medical superstardom truly tragic and is hammered home by Cumberbatch’s honest portrayal of a broken man. Having exhausted all other options, Strange desperately seeks out the elusive Ancient One. It is here, where Cumberbatch plays a determined, daring and dubious sorcerer that responsibly challenges and preserves the status quo.
Friend, Frenemy, and Future Foe
Karl Mordo (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) is one of the disciples of the Ancient One; he is also one of Strange’s mentors during his training. As Strange’s train commences, details come to light that casts doubt on the integrity of the Ancient One; causing Mordo’s and Strange’s relationship to strain. Mordo eventually falls out with Strange and the other mystics. The end movie Easter egg hints that Mordo might be the new villain in the next Doctor Strange film.
The face of villainy is that of Mads Mikkelsen playing Kaecilius. A rogue disciple of the Ancient One; Kaecilius and his fellow cultists want to goal merge the Dark Dimension with that of Earth, allowing Dormammu (the lord of the Dark realm) to consume our reality. Dormammu is a demonic mystical entity that misleads Kaecilius and others into his service with the promise of eternal life. Kaecilius is not the villain of the film; he is an antagonist and puppet of Dormammu – making Dormammu the real evil faced. This is not an oversight by the director of the film; as Dormammu is one of Doctor Strange’s main adversary in the comics. Expect to see Dormammu and Doctor Strange increasingly square off in subsequent films.
Now that we are done with who is who and who is what; let’s talk storyline. Doctor Strange is relatively unknown to me. I have never been indoctrinated with his origin story (unlike the those of Batman, Superman, Thor, and Wolverine); making the tale of how Dr. Stephen Strange became stranger an enjoyable and refreshing experience to my uninitiated mind. Unlike origins stories in previous superhero movies that separated their films into two clunky chunks: the origin story and the feats featured – one of which always comes off as an apparent afterthought. On the other hand, the Doctor Strange film explicitly introduced Strange to the audience, by telling his journey through the circumstances and climatic clashes he gets caught up in.
Stephen Strange was a genius neurosurgeon that lost the use of his hands due to his pompous attitude and a car crash in bad weather. Completely self-absorbed, he alienates himself from his love interest (Christine Palmer) and vainly spent his wealth away in an attempt to regain the use of his hands. After exhausting all options available to him, Strange journeys to Kathmandu (Nepal) in search of the Ancient One – a master of the mystical arts that can restore his hands and life as a renowned neurosurgeon. Strange quickly becomes a disciple of the Ancient One to gain the knowledge to heal his body and soul. During his training, Strange finds himself thrown into a battle of cosmic proportions; between emptiness and balance. It is in this conflict, Strange grapples with the decision to possibly go back to his old life or surrender to his destiny as the future Sorcerer Supreme – master of the mystic arts!
In my opinion, there are two themes in the Doctor Strange film; namely that of transformation and the clandestine (there is more than meets the eye).
The theme of transformation is embodied in Stephen’s journey that he takes in the film: from successful neurosurgeon to a penniless traveler, and then to pragmatic mystic. His transformation is an unintentional one, much like our own that we have faced and will have to weather through. Much like Strange, we are either transformed or broken by circumstances that seem to sweep us into the ocean of the unknown. It is precisely this uncomfortable fact of life that makes the character of Stephen Strange a relatable one, making the film resonate in with every audience member that has emerged (or is emerging) from the life’s crucible.
More than meets the eye
There are many things in life that cannot be physically seen (i.e. love, beauty, time and life) because they are kept secrete, hidden from us, by our own blindness. We are unable to see want is underneath, what is truly valuable; because we see with the eye, not through the eye. When Strange only used his eyes to see with, all he could see was failure and pain. When he truly opened eyes, he saw the folly of his ways and found something worth fighting for. Strange’s bravery to truly see is the courage most of us want; because we know that there is more to life, but we are afraid that we might not like what is unveiled.
Marvel’s misunderstood doctor, Victor Von Doom, has always been one of the characters that I have identified with the most. Doctor Doom is ambitious and rational (qualities that I prize highly); however, Victor’s single-minded vision often leads down the path to the dark side (that may be correctly labeled as evil regardless of Von Doom’s intentions). On the other hand, Doctor Strange is adventurous, logical and responsible; making him an easy character to relate to. Strange is a driven hero that has to decide the correct path to walk on to the best of his knowledge – he is not a super soldier with a moral compass; he is not an Asgardian with an all-knowing Allfather watching over him… Strange is a man that had to decide to take on responsibility and discipline to protect people he did not initially care about.
To sum up – the film was enjoyable and refreshing; intelligently put together to tell the story of an intellectual hero. Doctor Strange is not like most superheroes. He is not muscle-clad, nor does he use his family’s wealth to purchase gadgets to fight crime, and he is not an overpowered alien sent to Earth from a dying planet. He is a man that decided to become more.
If you have not seen the film yet, do yourself a favor – see it! I, personally, will see it multiple times. And I will start collecting the comics.
Rotten Tomatoes 90% – IMDb 8/10 – $494m