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Doctor Strange (2016) - MCU Retro Review

04.22.2018

 

Heading into the final few chapters of Marvel's Phase 3 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we decided it was time to take a look back at the last ten years worth of films (18 in all) and re-evaluate them based on how well they hold up today and how connected they are to the greater MCU now that the films have advanced so far into the timeline, which culminates in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and it's untitled sequel. Are they as good as you remember? Do they still hold up today? Are the deeper MCU connections even deeper than before or weaker? Join us as we attempt to answer those questions and take another look at the last decade of Marvel Studios with our Retro-Review Series!

DIRECTED BY: Scott Derrickson
WRITTEN BY: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
STARRING: Benedict Cumberbatch, (Steve Strange / Doctor Strange), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo), Rachel McAdams (Christine Palmer), Benedict Wong (Wong), Mads Mikkelsen (Kaecilius), Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One), Michael Stuhlbarg (Dr. Nicodemus West), Benjamin Bratt (Jonathan Pangborn)
STORY: While on a journey of physical and spiritual healing, a brilliant neurosurgeon is drawn into the world of the mystic arts.

When Marvel first announced that Doctor Strange would be making his way to their cinematic universe, I was agog with the possibilities of what the character could bring to the studio's celebrated lineup of films. I thought to myself, "Yes, it's finally time to cast some major magic up in this mutha ..." For all that the Marvel Universe has provided us with an incredible array of spectacle, up until now, this is the first delve into truly mystical territory, for sure. While one could argue that there are elements of magic in Asgard, I find that they weren't truly expounded upon in the MCU, outside of a few glimpses of Loki's talent. With Marvel in-line to present the weird world of Doctor Strange, I thought to myself, "Hold onto your butts!" I'd found that with this cinematic introduction to the character, Marvel barely scratched the surface with regard to just how insane the source material can get. Which, admittedly, as far as character introductions go, I suppose is par for the course. 

Are any of you familiar with the concept of a compliment sandwich? You start with something positive, get your criticism out of the way, and end on a positive note. Allow me to start with a slice of delicious, positive bread. Visually, the film is gorgeous. I really enjoy the set design, costumes, and myriad of magical effects. I also find that the relationship between Dr. Stephen Strange and Dr. Christine Palmer is refreshingly unique in general. If you think about it, it's rare that you see a main character relationship be anything other than beginning courtship, let alone late-stage exes becoming amicable. It's an adult relationship. With communication that isn't always effective, but gets there in the end. It's not standard fair for action movies, MCU or otherwise. It's almost like DOCTOR STRANGE ventured into the territory of expecting something from its audience.

Where I believe the movie falters, is its inability to tell a story as compelling as its compatriots in the Marvel Universe. While visually remarkable, I must confess that, despite embarking on an extraordinary journey, I never warmed to Strange's character. It seemed to me that there was so much effort put into the aesthetics of the film, that the development of the characters and story was always a secondary consideration. For example, I feel as if Kaecilius' motivation and backstory were never truly explored, reducing him to little more than a well-acted cypher. To his credit, I don't think this was for lack of effort on the part Mads Mikkelsen, so much as less time and money spent on script and editing. For me, it all comes down to that there was no emotional connection. For all that this was universe building, there was no meaningful character development. Stephen Strange went on a significant spiritual odyssey, and came out the other side a changed man. Yet somehow managed to not make a significant connection with the audience. Plus, how do you fuck up Dormammu? He was like cloud Galactus from FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, all over again.

All that being said, Marvel's DOCTOR STRANGE does introduce audience members to a whole new realm within the MCU. It's a world that's filled with wonder, and allows future movie makers huge leeway and opportunity to create wildly fantastical scenarios going forward. By this I mean that, in the comics, Strange's world is filled with nightmare creatures spawned from chaos dimensions, devilishly clever villains capable of summoning the darkest of magicks, and impossible odds that only a sorcerer supreme (spoiler!) can manage. Overall, I enjoyed the movie, and remain hopeful that potential sequels will bring even more strange to the table.      

READ THE ORIGINAL THEATRICAL REVIEW!

Round One! Fight! The opening exchange between The Ancient One and Kaecilius is majorly cool. I really dig the way their spells twist the nearby buildings; it's like a kaleidoscope with fists of fury. It's a visually stunning display that I find sets the tone for the rest of the film. 

The first time Dr. Stephen Strange's astral form is ejected from of his physical body: This act by The Ancient One immediately curbs Strange's almost padantically-condescending behavior. I like to think of as a spiritual boop on the nose.

The mirror demension is always a treat. I really dig the look of it; how the shards of an alternate reality shimmer with light from another world.

Dr. Strange mastering the sling-ring enough to sneak into the library. Cue the Beyoncé!

The New York-based Sanctum Sanctorum as a whole is just awesome. It's almost like the mystical manor is a character in and of itself. Those Doors-of-Relocation are so damn cool. As is the optional gravity, wicked decor, and collection of enchanted trinkets from all across the multiverse. I want to live there. When can I move in, Marvel?

Any time the film goes into full-on INCEPTION mode.

The epic gauntlet that was Doctor Strange and Mordo's escape from Kaecilius and his followers. I particularly like the part when The Ancient One steps in, and saves the duo's bacon from the fire. All that Escher-style running around, though. Pretty freakin' cool.

The Dormammu Bargaining Montage: The point at which Dr. Strange loops time to repeatedly die and resurrect, effectively losing until he wins. Hard proof that comic book characters can die and come back, even in the movies. 

The introduction of Strange's Cloak of Levitation. It really did my heart good to see that Carpet from Disney's ALADDIN is still getting good work. 

The moment when Stephen reveals to Dr. Palmer where he's been and what he has become, only to promptly leave through a portal in a broom closet. Best. Exit. Ever. 

The Ancient One: Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all.
Dr. Stephen Strange: Which is? 
The Ancient One: It's not about you.

The Ancient One: Death is what gives life meaning. To know your days are numbered. Your time is short. You'd think after all this time, I'd be ready. But look at me. Stretching one moment out into a thousand... just so that I can watch the snow.

Dr. Stephen Strange: [after Mordo hands him a card] Well, what's this? My mantra? 
Baron Mordo: The Wi-Fi password. We're not savages.

Dr. Stephen Strange: Dormammu, I've come to bargain!

The Ancient One: [to Dr Strange] You're a man looking at the world through a keyhole. You've spent your life trying to widen it. Your work saved the lives of thousands. What if I told you that reality is one of many?

Dr. Stephen Strange: Wong. Just Wong? Like Adele? Or Aristotle. Drake. Bono... Eminem.

The Ancient One: [as Doctor Strange is hurtling through several dimensions contained within the Multiverse] You think you know how the world works? You think that this material universe is all there is? What is real? What mysteries lie beyond the reach of your senses? At the root of existence, mind and matter meet. Thoughts shape reality. This universe is only one of an infinite number. Worlds without end. Some benevolent and life giving. Others filled with malice and hunger. Dark places where powers older than time lie ravenous... and waiting. Who are you in this vast multiverse, Mr. Strange?

Dr. Stephen Strange: What did you just do to me? 
The Ancient One:
I pushed your astral form out of your physical form. 
Dr. Stephen Strange:
What's in that tea? Psilocybin? LSD? 
The Ancient One:
It's just tea... with a little honey.

The Ancient One: Have you ever seen that before in a gift shop? 
Dr. Stephen Strange: Teach me.

During one of the film's trippier moments, in which the New York City skyline magically folds in on itself, you can see Tony Stark's Avengers Tower warping into the void.

It's revealed that The Eye of Agamotto, an all-powerful magical object with the ability to manipulate time, is powered by the Time Stone. Oh snap! That's one more Infinity Stone for Thanos' mighty gauntlet. The end is nigh, my friends, and there's nowhere anyone can hide.

The Book of Cagliostro also makes an appearance in the movie. The book contains the details of an ancient ritual used to summon Dormammu and siphon energy from the Dark Dimension. It's basically the Necronomicon on crack.

If you look closely at the display cases found in the Sanctum Sanctorum, you might be able to spot both the Dark Scepter and the Black Knight's helmet. Each is a mystical object capable of doing untold damage to humanity and beyond. 

Upon arming himself for battle, we see Wong grab for the Wand of Watoomb. In the comics, the wand is one of six mystical artifacts belonging to different dimensions in the Marvel Universe. Each artifact is capable of casting different magicks, from the multiplication of lifeless objects to redirecting mystical energies.

In the film, Dr. Christine Palmer once engaged in a romantic relationship with Dr. Stephen Strange. However, in the comics, Christine Palmer is in fact one of the Night Nurses - like Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) of Marvel's DAREDEVIL.

When Strange first enters Karma-Taj, he mistakenly thinks an elderly man named Hamir is The Ancient One. Later in the film, Master Hamir proves to Strange that you don't need hands to create portals to other dimensions. It's a humbling AF moment for Strange, and I kind of love it.

A background character named Daniel Drumm is also featured in the film, albeit briefly. In the comics, Daniel dies, but after death, is summoned by his brother Jericho Drumm, also known as the villain we should have had for this movie, Brother Voodoo.

Blarg, Dr. Nick West.This thorny character, who has something of an on-going rivalry with Dr. Strange, is a nod to the comic book character Nicodemus West. In the pages of Marvel's Doctor Strange comic series, Dr. West is unable to save Stephen's hands after his car accident. This eats away at him, to the point where he seeks training from The Ancient One to atone for his guilt. Although his intentions were pure, West leaves his position at the mystical retreat before her can become a true sorcerer.

Nico Minoru of the RUNAWAYS also appears in the film. She isn't named, but you can tell its her by the way she wields the Staff of One, a mystical artifact powered by the caster's own blood. Nico is one of two people able to use the weapon.

Thor arrives as a part of the film's first post-credits sequence. In the scene, he drinks from a never-ending beer stein, as Strange talks to the Odinson about Loki, and his father, Odin. Later, that same scene is featured in Taika Waititi's THOR: RAGNAROK. Marvel bringing things full-circle, y'all!

Do you remember the object that Strange picked up during his fight with Kaecilius, the one Stephen didn't know how to use? That was actually a relic known as the Evil Eye. In the comics, the Evil Eye is an uber-powerful weapon belonging to a character by the name of Crusader Prestor John. In the pages of Marvel comics, John uses the object against the Fantastic Four. Upon doing so, the weapon shatters into six pieces. Those shards quickly become a coveted set of items. Even Dormammu both wants and fears the Evil Eye. In other words, it's not a bad weapon to keep around, if you can handle it.  

In the second post-credits sequence, we witness Baron Mordo's transformation from disillusioned student of The Ancient One to full-on villain. In the comics, Baron Mordo has always proven to be a thorn in Dr. Strange's side. I would not be surprised if his character comes back, down the road, to cause even more trouble for Doctor Strange.

At the end of the movie, after Kaecilius and his disciples are violently sucked into the Dark Dimension, they're transformed into unthinking, unfeeling creatures. These monstrosities are known throughout the Marvel Universe as The Mindless Ones. They're like obedient drones, and are often used by major Marvel villains to do their bidding.  

Marvel's DOCTOR STRANGE marks the first time that we see the character in the flesh. Before the release of the film, the character existed in name only.

One more time, for the people in the cheap seats! Thor appears as a part of the film's first post-credits sequence. In the scene, he drinks a tasty beverage as Strange talks to him about Loki, and his father, Odin. The scene was used again for THOR: RAGNAROK.

In the moments leading up to the gathering of several Masters of the Mystic Arts, at the Hong Kong Sanctum Sanctorum, Nico Minoru of the RUNAWAYS makes a cameo appearance. You can see her preparing for the battle ahead as she grabs her special weapon, the Staff of One.

When Stephen is driving in his car, his contact on the other end of his phone informs him about a woman in her 20s who was struck by lightning. While this doesn't sound like anything just yet, it's then revealed that the injury was complicated by the fact that she had an electronic implant in her brain to help quiet her schizophrenia. When Derrickson was asked if this was a reference to Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel, the DOCTOR STRANGE director said "I'll never tell ..."

During a most epic foot chase, Doctor Strange and Mordo are found sprinting down streets, along the walls of buildings, and through the sky, as reality twists and warps around them. After Kaecilius manipulates a building, both Doctor Strange and Mordo fall to the ground and collide with the side of a bus. As they're falling, we see Stan Lee as a passenger inside the vehicle, he's laughing to himself as he reads a copy of Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception

I suppose that there are two major villains featured in Marvel's DOCTOR STRANGE. The first, obviously, is Kaecilius. As a former member of the Masters of the Mystic Arts, Kaecilius grew weary of The Ancient One's teachings, after she forbade him to allow other dimensions to come to Earth. This angered Kaecilius, on account of that he wanted to use his magic to reunite with his deceased wife and son, if only in spectral form. In an act of defiance, Kaecilius formed the Zealots, a group of dark magic dealers willing to fight by the mad sorcerer's side. Determined to conjure an inter-dimensional being named Dormammu, Kaecilius and his followers will stop at nothing to see their plan to its end. In the film, Kaecilius is defeated by Doctor Strange and banished to the Dark Dimension.

Dormammu, however, is one seriously DO NOT DISTURB kind of villain. This ancient entity comes equipped with untold levels of cosmic power, and is the Big Man in the Sky of the Dark Dimension. In the film, Doctor Strange escapes Dormammu's eternal torment, basically by annoying him into submission. That being said, you still don't want to scrap with this guy, he'll send planetary shards through your spine faster than you can say the word "Shambahala."

 

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Source: Joblo

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