Countdown to Endgame #17: In Which We Get Real Sassy About Doctor Strange

As The Avengers: Endgame approaches, Team Midnight has committed to watch all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released to date in chronological (story) order: 22 films in 8 weeks. Follow along with us.

Though it’s decidedly hard to pin down exactly how long the Doctor spends in Kathmandu, the nerds in the world generally agree that the action of Doctor Strange overlaps with both Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Truly a standalone, this film gives Doctor Strange a backstory and introduces a new infinity stone (the Time Stone, which is green!), Wong, and the sanctum in New York – all of which play a role in future films.

Heroes: Doctor Steven Strange

“It’s not a cult.”

Doctor Strange was a rich, famous neurosurgeon with a photographic memory who only operates on patients he knows he can save and has never made a mistake. After a bad car accident, though, he learns about wizards and decides to become one of those instead.

Other heroes:

  • The Ancient One
  • Wong
  • Mordo
  • Thor

Villain: Kaecilius

“We don’t seek to rule this world. We seek to save it.”

Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson) is a former student of The Ancient One, the very same mystical arts sensei that Doctor Strange studies under.

Cool eye makeup.

Villain Complexity Rating: 3/5

At some point, someone says something about Mads’ terrible grief, which is all we ever learn about his life before he goes crazy, possessed with defeating death and living forever. Well, one of the “hungriest” dark dimensions of the multiverse could grant that wish and fortunately, happens to be obsessed with planet earth. (Yup, this gets real weird.) So Mads steals a forbidden spell and he and his friends make a deal with darkness: grant us immortality as part of the infinite blackness and you can have the earth too! And then we can all live forever, right?

Well as it turns out, immortality in darkness is a real bummer – and I gotta say: Mystic Arts Master Mads Mikkelson should’ve seen that coming.

“What’s at Stake” Rating: 4.5/5

If Mads gets his way, planet earth will become assimilated into an alternate dimension ruled over by a god-like, purple planet-sized head. Time doesn’t exist in this dimension, which is kind of a fun concept, so no one ever dies! It also seems like nothing else really lives except for the head, which is named Dormammu. This feels a lot like Malekith’s deal – except earth only.

What did our hero(es) learn?

Steven learns how to see an infinite number of alternate dimensions, each with their own version of reality. He also learns to speed up and slow down time, project his astral body out of his physical body, teleport, travel between realities (i.e. disappear), levitate, and conjure disc-hands made of lightning for fist fights.

Heroism Rating: 2.5/5

Steven is all about Steven. Self-obsessed and paralyzed by the threat of failure, Doc takes perfectionism to an intense new level, stretching the limits of the Hippocratic Oath to the extent that he refuses to treat people who are too sick. After he meets The Ancient One and begins his sorcerer studies, he shifts his obsession to becoming the best sorcerer ever – so that he can go back to his old life as Asshole Surgeon of the Year. At some point along his journey into the chakras, he glimpses a much larger, more complex multidimensional universe and it teaches him to embrace a more profound purpose for his life than appeasing his own egotistic arrogance: being master wizard of one of two remaining mystical sanctum, protectors of all human life from the perpetual invisible threat of multiversal forces who would bring about its destruction. Sounds like Steven got promoted.

To his credit, the way he convinces Dormmamu not to consume the earth is by imprisoning him in a time loop in which he kills Doctor Strange again and again for eternity, until he agrees to the Docs’ terms. Pretty heroic stuff, but knowing the Doc – maybe he wouldn’t have volunteered for the mission if he wasn’t 100% sure that it would work. Makes you think.

Visual Aesthetic/CGI Rating: 3.5/5

At least half of the reason for this zany movie to exist is the promise of visuals that are spectacular enough to match the out-there plot about wizards who manipulate reality through the power of belief and who make magical weapons by harnessing energy from the multiverse and channeling it into umbrellas and chamber pots and whatever else they have lying around. Doctor Strange halfway follows through on that promise. The main trippy sequence, in which The Ancient One opens Steven’s third eye to the multiverse, is kaleidoscopic and creative and colorful and vast and cool. Unfortunately, it’s short – and after that, the movie mostly skips fantastical visual effects, opting for martial arts-style invisible sword fighting instead. In exception is the climactic sequence: the exploded city block putting itself together as time moves in reverse, and the whole interdimensional Dormammu thing. Both were done really well and looked cool… and I know, you’re right, they did a bunch of Inception-meets-M.C. Escher landscape psychotropia – but come on, this is Doctor Strange! It should’ve been much weirder, IMO.

Heroic Cinema Saturation Index

Betsy Rating: 1.5/5

I have two big issues with this movie: 1) the goatee and 2) fisticuffs. Let me explain.

First, Doctor Strange is just such an unlikable character. He starts out as an overly educated, arrogant, white, wealthy, prickly narcissist and ends up as an overly educated, arrogant, white, wealthy, prickly, narcissistic culture-appropriating sorcerer with a higher purpose that none of those other idiot human beings understand. Contrary to what it appears Christine (a totally wasted Rachel McAdams) is there to help him learn, and despite all of the hard things he’s been through, he doesn’t become more compassionate or generous, and doesn’t come to any revelations about the value of human life. No, he gets a new, very important job that he immediately excels at and a mansion full of neat magic stuff. He’s the goatee of heroes: the facial hair that shows up a lot, and you kind of can’t believe it’s still a thing, but there it is, again. A goatee. Wow.

Second. As I have already admitted, I can get down with some weird wizard stuff. Bring on the multiverse and the power of the spirit and the connection between mind, matter, and the cosmos and all that stuff! I’m there with you. I was excited for this movie to just go hard into some psychedelic, spooky stuff to help us play around for awhile in the idea that magic could be happening in our world. But instead, the filmmakers decide to resolve pretty much everything that happens with a fist fight. Physical violence. Really? These are magical sorcerers guys, they don’t resolve conflict by conjuring themselves martial weapons and then chasing each other around. So lame.

I’m glad that Doctor Strange seems to settle into himself more in the films to come because I think his character is a great addition to the MCU. And I love Benedict Cumberbatch, usually.  I think maybe this version of the Doc is just not the hero for me.

Justin’s Rating: 2/5

I’m giving this the same score I gave Ant-Man even though I think Doctor Strange is a considerably worse film. This is because, in my mind, I’m punishing Marvel Studios for blowing it with Edgar Wright, who’s one of my favorite filmmakers even though Baby Driver was awkward and uneven and poorly cast. So take that, Marvel. Anyway Ant-Man is probably a 2.5 because even though one of my less attractive qualities is my ability to hold a grudge, I have to admit it’s pretty damn funny thanks to Michael Pena and Paul Rudd being very funny people. Sure, the villain is bizarrely afflicted by achievement disorder and appears simultaneously to be a genius and a moron and there’s some filler in there, but a 2 is a little harsh. The fact is, every time I watch it, I get mad about it all over again. Like, how do you fuck this one up? So frustrating. I’m doing it again. Let me stop. Ant-Man isn’t that bad a film. It might even be a 3 on a good day if I could just get over my disappointment. Ok so Doctor Strange isn’t like that. It’s just boring. Had I known that it was co-written by one of the geniuses who doinked up Prometheus, I probably would have expected less and rated it higher, but I didn’t.

I suppose I was hoping Steven Strange wouldn’t be such an arrogant prick in the film the same way we all sort of passively hope the people we meet each day won’t be huge pricks. I guess I thought Stark and Thor had that racket pretty well sewn up, but it seems our intrepid friends in the writer’s room felt there was a dearth of entitlement and privilege in the MCU. To their credit, he really ups the ante with lines like, “Well, I could help, but so can 50 other people. Find me something worth my time”, or, “I could have done better”, or, “The wealth and privilege that I see as my birthright is merely incidental to the success I’ve enjoyed to this point in my life and career. I’m not racist! You’re the one who’s racist! That’s it, I’m calling the police. Oh yeah, record me – look, I’m recording you back! I’M BEING HARASSED!”** No wonder the only black guy in the movie turns on him. I’m pulling for Mordo to whip his ass and drag him to Wakanda in the sequel. He does receive some coaching from the Ancient One on how to not to be such an A-hole near the end I guess, but Steven Strange is a hard man to love.

This would be easier to forgive if Doctor Strange gave us some mystical cud to chew while we hang out with him, but aside from a very brief and inoffensive abstract on mysticism in the second act, it’s pretty much magic whips and invisible swords. Again, one of these writers worked on Prometheus, a film that promised high-minded exploration of celestial mysteries but delivered mostly spectacle and gore by way of reallllllly stupid characters.

A little humor would have gone a long way to alleviate the tedium generated by too much flashy combat and an loathsome protagonist, but Strange comes up short there too. Cumberbatch manages some heroic feats of charm resulting in a couple of light chuckles, but the majority of jokes and gags are obvious and corny. Even when they’re not, they feel tacked on to the sobering tone of the film.

The good news is, you really don’t need to watch it. You can get all the Strange context you need from Ragnarok and Infinity War, and he’s much more tolerable in those films! The bad news is the same director/co-screenwriter has been tapped for the sequel. Ugh. Maybe it’s more like a 1.5.



You have to pay a few bucks if you’d like to rent Doctor Strange on Vudu or the Google Play/iTunes app stores. Recommended for Tilda Swinton die-hards. Everyone else can skip it.

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