Doctor Strange: A Trip Down the Psychedelic

Back in the 1960s, as Marvel grew and became a major force on the comics, artist Steve Ditko wanted to do something different. The majority of Marvel’s heroes were characters that had gained their abilities from scientific achievements or from mishaps involving high-end technology. Steve Ditko wanted to reach out for something different, something that would stand out from all of the science-based heroes. In fact, he had developed an idea for a superhero who was a master of magic and would challenge those threats that revolved around the mystic world. He pitched the idea to Stan Lee, who embraced the idea. Naming this character Dr. Strange, he would first debut in the pages of the anthology title Strange Tales. From there, Dr. Strange would grow to become one of Marvel’s most powerful characters. Though he is not necessarily one of their most popular characters, he is their go-to character for battling the mystic and has been a major member of numerous teams, from the well-known Avengers to the monster-fighting Midnight Sons. At last, he now arrives on the big screen as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Doctor Strange, a film that proved to be visually inspired even as it faces some hurdles in being an origin story.

Dr. Stephen Strange is a brilliant neurosurgeon, renowned for his incredible skill and for a mind gifted with a photographic memory. He is also supremely arrogant, only taking on jobs that will not destroy his perfect record or will give him further acclaim. However, his life is shattered when a car crash destroys his hands and leaves them with nerve damage, resulting in a tremor that kills his career. Desperate to have his life back, he pours his money into any treatment that could restore his hands, until he eventually learns of the Ancient One. Spending his last bit of cash, he travels to Nepal and finds the Ancient One. Though he is initially skeptical of her claims that she had healed people before through magic, he begs to learn the ways of the mystic arts. As he studies and learns of magic and its uses, he finds that he is being pulled into serving in a war against powerful forces. With a rogue sorcerer named Kaecilius seeking to bring vengeance down upon the Ancient One, Stephen Strange finds that he must go beyond himself and use his new teachings to help save the world from a powerful threat.

This film is another good entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It works well in introducing Stephen Strange and showcasing his origin, demonstrating his path in having to set aside his arrogance and grow beyond himself. The performances are good, such as from Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange and in particular Tilda Swinton’s playful yet heartfelt turn as the Ancient One. Most noteworthy of the film’s strengths, however, are its visuals. The subject of magic is one that opens the door to real potential for stunning visuals. This film certainly captures that potential, offering up plenty of captivating sequences. From psychedelic sequences that harken back to Steve Ditko’s original art to M.C. Escher-esque perspective twists and illusions, plenty of sequences throughout have these inspired touches that offer a mindbending approach to familiar action sequences. For instance, there is one sequence where our heroes and villains do battle in normal time while time for the rest of the world is rewinding around them. It is an inspired and clever idea, one of many throughout the film that takes advantages of its subject. Now, admittedly, for some the story might seem a little weak.

While this is an origin story, the challenge that may hamper the movie for some is not simply the work of telling an origin story. Rather, it may be that the story feels a little simple compared to some of Marvel’s other films. Part of that issue may stem from how the film is trying to incorporate something that might otherwise challenge a viewer’s suspension of disbelief: magic. Up until this point, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been firmly based in scientific ideas. Even Thor, the legendary Norse god of thunder, is presented as being an alien from another world using advanced technology. Even as the subject of mystic arts is presented through a somewhat scientific lens, it still firmly feels and functions like magic. Thus, the film has to get audiences acquainted and used to magic, allowing it to feel like a natural extension of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and not feel at odds with the current tone. The result is that the main story, of Strange’s growth as an individual and his battles with Kaecilius, might feel a touch simple while time is given to explaining and showcasing the scope of magic within this universe. It is a minor weakness in the big picture, but it is one that might irk some viewers nonetheless.

Though it has to give some time to acclimating viewers to the subject of magic, Doctor Strange makes for another good entry within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With mindbending visuals that take advantage of its mystic subject, this is another entry that is definitely worth watching.

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