Review - Doctor Strange (IMAX 3D)

Doctor Strange (2016), PG-13, 115 minutes - It's been over six months since my last post here on the blog.  At the time I had little notion as to just how much free time a part time job on the side would take up.  I won't bore you with specifics, but I am no longer working two jobs.   Hopefully, this will allow me to get back to somewhat regular blog updates (around catching up on the good old 'honey do' list of course).  Before I get to my thoughts on Doctor Strange, I would like to say that I am very fortunate and thankful to have been put in the position that I have been, allowing me to no longer have to work the second job.  I also have much greater respect and appreciation for those who juggle multiple jobs, whether that be out of necessity or by choice.

Last Saturday was my last day on the second job, so Sunday morning I wasted little time in making my way to a theater to see the recently released Doctor Strange, which is a film that I've been pretty stoked about since before it was even officially announced (dating back to the character's name-drop in Captain America: The Winter Soldier).  Two like-minded friends highly recommended seeing it in IMAX 3D if at all possible, so I decided to drive thirty minutes down the road to my old college stomping grounds of Blacksburg to the closest IMAX theater for my first IMAX experience that wasn't one of those educational 'Under the Sea'-type films.    

Doctor Strange is the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) entry from Marvel Studios, and explores the magical/mystical corner of the MCU, a corner that had previously only be touched upon in season 2 of Daredevil on Netflix and the current season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a world renowned neurosurgeon, and an arrogant, self serving one at that.  He is the best at what he does and he knows it, often turning down patients whose ailments he deems unworthy of his skill and time or that he feels have a low probability of success.  He is involved in a car wreck caused by his being distracted by his phone while driving (he was examining at a potential patient's file), after which his hands - a surgeon's most invaluable tool - are damaged beyond repair.  He's fortunate in that the surgeons were able to save his hands as opposed to resorting to amputation, but due to the severe damage done to the nerve structure, he doesn't see it that way.  He feels that a more experienced surgeon (like himself) would have been able to save his hands and his livelihood along with them.  He struggles with his physical therapy and is unimpressed with the excruciatingly slow progress in his recovery.  He gets so frustrated that he brutally verbally lashes out at fellow surgeon and sometimes-love-interest Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams).  His desire to explore any treatment, no matter how experimental, leads him to Nepal in search of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), whose teachings have been rumored to have healed other irreversible ailments.  Strange's eyes are opened to a whole new realm of non-science based possibilities and he immerses himself in his studies of the mystical in hopes of fixing his hands.  In doing such, Strange comes in contact with Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former pupil of The Ancient One, whose actions threaten to unleash a mystical evil that threatens to destroy the world.

Doctor Strange is a basic origin story for one of Marvel's most classic characters and is a nice entry into the magical/mystical side of the MCU for the casual viewer (i.e. those not familiar with the character's history in the comics).  While it does loosely reference other characters/events within the MCU, it stands alone very well and you are not required to have any prior MCU knowledge in order to follow what is going on.  The film is visually stunning, at times incorporating Inception-esque world-bending, and is well worth the increased price of admission for a larger format screen such as IMAX.  Our local IMAX theater was only screening it in 3D, and while I don't think the 3D format is absolutely necessary to enjoy this film, I do feel that it was very well done and enhances the viewing experience in this instance.  Of course, these options may no longer be available as this is the film's third week in release and other films such as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them have likely taken over prime theater real estate.

In short, Doctor Strange, led by the double edged sword of outstanding visuals and a wonderful ensemble cast (that along with Cumberbatch, McAdams, Swinton, and Mikkelsen, includes Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, Benedict Wong as Wong, and Benjamin Bratt as Jonathan Pangborn,) is a must-see for any fan of the MCU or for those who enjoy excellent visual effects.  It is also likely the most thought-provoking film in the MCU catalog thus far, and opens an infinite number of doors for story line possibilities in the MCU films to come.












*****SPOILERS*****

- First things first - as per usual with an MCU film, there are two post-film scenes.  One mid-credits and another post-credits.  If you want a little extra insight into upcoming MCU plot points, be sure to stay through the credits! I will discuss these in more detail at the end of this section.

- We learn that one of the relics that Doctor Strange uses prominently in the film, the Eye of Agamotto, encapsulates one of the Infinity Stones (Time Stone) that have been a seeded throughout the MCU films to date and will play a major role in 2018's Avengers: Infinity War (it has already been announced that Cumberbatch's Strange will be involved).

- Doctor Strange co-creator Stan Lee makes his obligatory MCU cameo, this time reading a book on a bus that Doctor Strange runs into when things are distorted in the Mirror Realm.

- There are a couple of vague references to the MCU at large, and the Avengers specifically.  In one shot of the city, we can see Avengers tower and in the scene in which Strange crashes, one of the patients he is being told about is 'a thirty five year old Air Force pilot who crushed his spine in a suit of experimental armor'.  This is a reference to Rhodey's accident in Captain America: Civil War.

- That being said, it raising some timeline questions.  In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Jasper Sitwell says that Stephen Strange is on a watch list as a potential threat, but at this point in time, he has not yet learned anything from The Ancient One, as evidenced by Rhodey's wreck taking place before Strange's own accident.  So why was Strange already flagged as a potential threat?

- I am not as well-versed in Doctor Strange history as I am some other characters, but I did catch the following references:

  • Master Drumm, keeper of the New York Sanctum is Daniel Drumm.  This is significant as he is the brother of Jericho Drumm, who is known as Brother Voodoo in the comics.  In comic continuity, Daniel dies and his spirit is attached to his brother Jericho, who at one point becomes Sorcerer Supreme in place of Doctor Strange (a title that Strange has since regained).
  • Visuals for the Dark Dimension are a direct nod to comic legend, and Doctor Strange co-creator Steve Ditko's designs for said realm in the comics.
  • In the comics, The Ancient One is an old Tibetan man.  When Tilda Swinton was originally cast in the role, many people were outraged that the film character was being 'white-washed'.  I personally feel as though she did wonderful in the role, although I understand the concern that others had.
  • In the comics, Wong is more of a butler/servant to Strange.  I really like this take on the character, who is much more of an ally and equal when it comes to protecting the sanctums.
  • Wong uses the Wand of Watoomb in battle with Kaecilius, and Mordo has the Vaulting Boots of Voltarr.  Both Watoomb and Voltarr are used in many magical invocations in the comics.
  • The Cloak of Levitation has long been a relic used by Strange in the comics.   
  • The scene in which Christine Palmer performs surgery on Strange and his astral form interacts with her is based on a scene from the Doctor Strange: The Oath series by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin.
  • In The Oath story, the Night Nurse (inspiration for the character of Christine Palmer) calls Strange 'Sherlock', and he refers to her as 'Watson'.  This is amusing as Cumberbatch plays Sherlock Holmes on the BBC series Sherlock.  Doctor Strange: The Oath came out in 2006 and the Sherlock series began in 2010, so it's just an fun coincidence.
  • The doctor that performs the surgery on Strange's hands, and then attempts to save The Ancient One is Dr. Nick West (Michael Stuhlbarg), and is based on Dr. Nicodemus West, also from The Oath series.
  • The wi-fi password given to Strange by Mordo in Kamar-Taj is 'shamballa' - referencing the title of another Doctor Strange story titled Doctor Strange: Into Shamballa.
  • In the most current volume of the Doctor Strange comic by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo Strange wields an axe along with his relics.  While attempting to fend off Kaecilius' siege on the New York Sanctum, Strange reaches for an axe on the wall but is instead tugged in another direction by the cloak of levitation.
- Other comic references that I didn't catch myself but have read about online:

  • The Staff of One can be seen in a display case in the New York Sanctum.  In the comics, it is used by Tina Minoru (also known as Sister Grimm), a member of The Runaways, a series that I have not read.
  • Master Hamir - the one-handed master originally mistaken for The Ancient One, and who demonstrates that magic can be wielded without the use of hands altogether also has origins tying back to the comics.  In the comics, he is not only one of The Ancient One's most trusted disciples but is also Wong's father.   
  • The staff used by Mordo while training with Strange is the Staff of the Living Tribunal, which is also a relic found in the comics.

- Benedict Cumberbatch also performed the motion capture for Dormammu.

- In the mid-credits scene we see Doctor Strange discussing with Thor how they can locate Loki, as he represents a mystical threat.  Not only do we get a little humor with Strange magically refilling Thor's gigantic mug of mead, but we also see Strange's classic yellow gloves!

- In the post-credits scene, Mordo visits Pangborn and confronts him over his use of magic to counteract his injuries.  Mordo has had a change of heart from earlier in the film and now feels that there are too many purveyors of magic.  He takes the magic from Pangborn, leaving him lying on the floor crippled.  This appears to put Mordo on a villainous path, which would run parallel to his role from the comics in which he is one of Strange's biggest adversaries.

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