Review of Marvel’s Dr. Strange


Keith Zevallos

Dr. Strange Movie Poster (courtesy of Marvel)

Marvel Studios does one thing incredibly well: take an otherwise by-the-numbers action story and turn it into one hell of an entertaining movie. Dr. Strange doesn’t break any new ground with its plot, themes, or characters, but stands out in its masterfully fun and visually imaginative execution.

When we first meet Dr. Stephen Strange, he’s an arrogant, self-absorbed, genius of a surgeon with a comically encyclopedic knowledge of music and an obsession with his work. He doesn’t enjoy much screen time as a practicing surgeon, however, he is involved in a disaster of a car wreck that leaves his hands with severe nerve damage, incapable of performing the work that gives his life meaning.

His desperate search for a way to heal his hands leads him to an order of sorcerers lead by “The Ancient One”, where he learns the ways of magic and is unwittingly conscripted into a conflict between those sorcerers and a faction of heretics who wish to call upon the powers of an eldritch horror from “The Dark Dimension” and destroy the world.

And that’s the movie. Strange wins and saves the world as he slowly grows into his role as a magic defender of Earth, with a handful of convenient loose ends that tease the inevitable sequels and crossovers with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But a synopsis doesn’t do Dr. Strange justice.

Strange is your archetypal intellectual genius with no faith or belief in things spiritual or otherworldly. His childish stubbornness on this subject is so deep-seated that he denies the existence of magic to his would-be teacher immediately after she makes him experience his spirit being removed from his body. After some pitiful begging and pleading, The Ancient One accepts Strange as her student and begins his training.

Strange’s development throughout the movie is surprisingly satisfying. Rather than having a complete about-face upon his acceptance of magic, his humility quickly turns to arrogance as he becomes more adept. The brilliant mind and photographic memory that made him a famous surgeon allows him to excel in his sorcerous studies, and by the halfway point he’s as much of an egotistical jerk at magic as he was at medicine. It’s during the conflict of the second half where we really see Strange grow as a person. There’s actually a clever use of the Hippocratic Oath that helps define his character during a key point in the story. By the end, while maintaining the sizable ego central to his personality, Strange learns compassion and relinquishes his desire to be in control of everything.

But where Dr. Strange excels at is its action and visuals, which range from clever and creative to unabashedly surreal and psychedelic. The opening scene is a wild battle between The Ancient One and a party of evil sorcerers amidst a landscape that can only be described as “Inception on steroids”. All the battles in this movie play fast and loose with laws of physics and perspective. Cityscapes fold, towers twist and bend like rubber, rooms and halls tumble and turn, tossing combatants about like ants in a jar. I won’t spoil the details, but a key magical power at the center of the conflict is the manipulation of time, and that power is used fascinatingly well during the climactic final battle.

Overall? It’s hard to argue that any of Marvel’s movies are truly “bad”. But with an ever-growing library of films that can range from “forgettable” to “okay”, Dr. Strange stands out as an exceptional entry in the Marvel series. Years from now, when looking back on the studio’s catalog, it might even be remembered as one of their best.