The Comic Critic: Marvel’s gotten Strange-er

A poster advertising Doctor Strange, which was released Nov. 4. Picture from

Bryson Turner, Opinions Editor

“Forget everything that you think you know,” is not just a piece of advice given to Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) by Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), but it also could be interpreted as a word of advice to the viewers of Marvel’s 14th film in its cinematic universe, Doctor Strange. This is a movie that, with each of their characters and dazzling visuals, introduces a new and crucial aspect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s world as a whole.

Not five minutes after the opening credits rolled, we were treated to the movie’s first feat of visual astonishment when a cloaked Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) attempts to apprehend the movie’s secondary antagonist, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and two of his lackeys in a dimension that mirrors the real world, but is not detectable by humans, allowing mystic arts users to manipulate it as they see fit. The best way I could describe this scene, and most of the other visuals in this movie, is a cross between Harry Potter and Inception, and it still wouldn’t fully describe the visual majesty. It’s enough that I would recommend Doctor Strange for its visuals alone, which already sets it in a completely new category in Marvel’s film stable.

Part of the so-called “superhero fatigue” is the fact that superhero films repeat the same formula over and over, and while Marvel does have a distinct formula, they manage to tweak it enough in this movie for it to have a unique feel, yet it’s still a Marvel movie. Guardians of the Galaxy proves to be a great example of this in that its Marvel’s first movie where comedy was the element that really drove the film home, rather than as just some additions to keep audiences paying attention. In Doctor Strange, there is a similar diversion from the norm. This time, we see the main hero learn completely new skills and abilities, separating itself from Iron Man and Ant Man, who only gained technology that enhanced the use of what they already knew. With Strange, he thought the existence of magic was an impossibility, and by the film’s conclusion, he was well on his way to becoming the sorcerer supreme.

With the mystical realm of the MCU put on full display, we were bound to get at least a glimpse of a purely mystical realm, a la the quantum realm from Ant-Man, and we did when Strange visited the dark dimension to confront the real villain of the film, Dormammu (voiced by a blend of an uncredited British actor and Cumberbatch, who was also used for the villain’s facial rendering). While the dark dimension itself is beautiful with its sharp dark colors, it is Dormammu himself that was most visually stunning. The combination of dark purple eyes, and a nearly solid black body give him a menacing aura that not any villain can have.

As for its characters, while they were very likable, they all had some trait that made them seem a little too similar to previous Marvel characters. For example, Strange’s character arc is remarkably similar to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) mixed with a bit of Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), Strange’s love interest, comes off similar to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) due to her relative lack of screen time and on-and-off relationship with the main hero, and even The Ancient One draws a few similarities to the All-Father himself, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), with her ambiguous actions and impact on the main character. This isn’t to say that the characters are unoriginal. Strange being pushed to the edge by his hand injury during the film’s opening act was very interesting to watch as he got more and more desperate, especially when we saw how much he enjoyed doing his job as a surgeon.

Overall, Doctor Strange introduces us to some of the stranger aspects of the MCU with its stunning visuals and excellent writing. With the end of the credits promising Strange’s return sooner rather than later, we can only wish we had the Eye of Agamotto so we could fast forward time to the premiere date of his next film appearance.