Doctor Strange (2016)

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I believe that in any form of art or creation of something, the best way to create someone unique, original and meaningful is to put into the world what you want out of it. This applies to my film discussions and reviews as well – and when it comes to Doctor Strange, the only part of the reviews I really cared about was whether or not Tilda Swinton was good. Therefore, assuming there are other people who care about how the sublime Swinton was in Doctor Strange, I can gladly say she was absolutely astonishing and brilliant, and proves why she is one of the most talented actresses of all time. Now if that’s what you came here for (which is what I would’ve come here for), you can stop reading now – however, there is far more I want to say about Doctor Strange, and I will be slightly grandiose here and proclaim this as the best movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a title previously held by the similarly audacious Guardians of the Galaxy.

I don’t need to explain the plot of Doctor Strange, because I believe there are only three kinds of people in this world – people who have seen Doctor Strange, people who are going to see Doctor Strange and people who have absolutely no intention of seeing Doctor Strange. Therefore, to discuss what this film is about would be pretty redundant, because if this film’s box office collection and the buzz around it are anything to go by, then I am pretty sure we all know what Doctor Strange is about. But if you need to know, it is essentially about Dr. Stephen Strange, a brilliant neurosurgeon that gets into a car accident and loses use of his hands, and in an effort to heal himself, he travels to Nepal, where he becomes a student of The Ancient One, who helps him regain the use of his hands, but also conveniently teaches him magic and forces him to become a sorcerer – and for some reason, Strange is the first person to just unintentionally become a superhero and not immediately love it – I actually found this hilarious, because the man just wanted to heal his hands, yet he is forces to become a sorcerer, which he doesn’t actually really want to do. Poor Stephen Strange, the only person on Earth who doesn’t want the ability to do magic.

Let’s talk about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and insult the DC Cinematic Universe in the process, because if 2016 is anything to prove, DC is losing its way and is failing dismally at making the films they think they are capable of making) – the Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet to have a truly bad film, mainly because the filmmakers are aware of the monumental events the release of these films are, and put a ton of effort into making quality films that entertain and are actually pretty well-made as well. However, I think we are all collectively getting a little bored of the same core group of superheroes – Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, Chris Evans and Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Mark Ruffalo as The Incredible Hulk etc. This isn’t to imply that they are even vaguely bad, or that the Marvel Cinematic Universe should just get rid of them – but rather, they are at risk of becoming stale and a little boring. It is important that Marvel starts to introduce a new generation of heroes, because the aforementioned actors aren’t going to stick around forever. To their credit, Marvel is incredible at planning their universe, and slowly and surely, they have been introducing the characters that will eventually form the core of the new generation of Marvel superheroes once Downey, Evans, Hemsworth, Ruffalo and the rest of the gang move on. Instead of foolishly holding onto the threads of popularity, they take risks in adding new characters (as well as casting some big, but suitable, actors in the roles).

Doctor Strange was always going to be a tricky film, mainly because the character is so unique, a normal superhero film would just not do. Doctor Strange could not be a film with the excessive explosions and brutal destruction that have come to be popular in other superhero films – it needed to have a far more mystical and unique tone, and the execution was absolutely perfect. The best part about Doctor Strange is how unlike any other superhero film it is, just like how Dr. Strange himself is not anything like any other superhero. He has his roots deeply in the more celestial world, and I was terrified that this film would simplify the character and ignore the far more interesting origin that he has in the comic books. Luckily, there wasn’t any merit in those fears, because Doctor Strange managed to keep true to the character.

Let’s talk about the casting. The role of Dr. Stephen Strange was always going to be tricky – you needed someone cerebral and intelligent, but also someone who is able to play both sides of the character – the arrogant, self-congratulatory jerk, and the eventual humbled and powerful sorcerer. I have to say, it was a greatly missed opportunity that Joaquin Phoenix turned down the role after he was seriously in contention for it (but his reasoning was more than justified – but how do you turn down Marvel money?) – and I am glad they didn’t settle for someone that couldn’t do the job, or someone inferior. I wouldn’t call Benedict Cumberbatch a great actor just yet (he hasn’t shown much range in types of performances, always playing some kind of tortured genius) – but to his credit, he is perfect for the role of Strange. He manages to capture every aspect of Strange perfectly, and I’m glad he was chosen for the role, because he’s talented enough to bring gravitas to the role, but also will be a great addition as a supporting player in future Marvel Cinematic Universe films.

Now Tilda Swinton. What else can be said about Tilda Swinton? In fear of making this entire review about Tilda Swinton, I’ll keep it short – she is spectacular. She is both wise and tough, and she plays the role of The Ancient One perfectly. She is just absolutely sublime in everything she does, and her ability to instantly become an iconic part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is credit to her talent. Of course, there is the controversy around her casting, and while I won’t delve deeply into that right now, I will say that Tilda Swinton is so talented, she transcends all conceptions of what we consider humanity, and thus she is probably the one person on Earth allowed to play whatever role she wishes. The important thing is that this character was always going to be controversial – if it was an old Asian man, it would pander to the Mr. Miyagi stereotype of the wise old Asian mentor. If it was an old Asian woman, it would pander to the Dragon Lady stereotype. The only way around it was to cast someone who could bring something utterly unique to the character. Swinton is an astounding actress, and I feel like the controversy around it stems from people who are a bit too hasty to judge, and don’t actually see that there were good intentions behind the casting – and we are ignoring the fact that the casting of Swinton allows for one of the most incredibly powerful and interesting characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is played by a woman over the age of fifty. It is all a matter of perspective, and diversity is important, but we’ve got to just look at things with a bit more levity at times – and if Tilda Swinton plays The Ancient One, let’s just give them the benefit of the doubt.

Moving beyond Swinton and Cumberbatch, we have quite a few notable performances here that deserve praise. Chiwetel Ejiofor is incredible as the conflicted Mordo, and I am looking forward to how he fits into the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – I think he’s going to be a spectacular villain in the future. Talking of villains, Mads Mikkelsen (one of the most brilliant character actors working today) plays the bad guy in Doctor Strange, and I have to say, after having some truly malicious, vicious and sadistic villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the past, it is refreshing to have a villain that is pretty calm and classy. He sometimes feels a bit too laid-back to be a proper villain, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because instead of just being evil for the sake of being evil, there is complexity behind his character, and they could not find a better actor to portray this kind of character more than Mikkelsen. The characters in Doctor Strange are all so conflicted – almost any of them stand on the bring of becoming villains, because Doctor Strange shows something that many other superhero movies do not – anyone can be a villain – evil can grow inside you, rather than just being born evil. It just takes one bad day (and here I quote the central concept of The Killing Joke, both the greatest DC comic of all time, and the worst DC film of all time – yes, even worse than Batman and Robin). Rachel McAdams proves that Marvel is trying to move away from the “useless girlfriend” concept by having her as a smart, funny and interesting character, and perhaps the only genuinely good character in the entire film.

Doctor Strange is a wonderful film – and I will once again assert that it is the best Marvel film yet. It is also absolutely mind-blowing in terms of the visuals. There are over a dozen moments that actually made me gasp in their complex beauty and innovative technological achievements. Doctor Strange will leave you absolutely dazzled, because they truly went above-and-beyond in terms of creating a visually arresting film. All these elements, combined with a tight and motivated story, and some incredible performances, makes Doctor Strange one of the best films of the year. I would not be surprised if it managed to be the first superhero film to ever crack my Top Ten Films of the Year, and it is certainly possible. Simply incredible.

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