The Marvel Cinematic Universe is filled with superheroes whose superpowers come from anything but magic and mysticism, especially not from Eastern philosophies – Iron Man has his technology, Captain America has his super-soldier injections, and Thor has his alien nature and hammer. The entry of Doctor Strange into the cinematic realm then represents a bold new direction.
Magic and Mysticism Combined
In Doctor Strange, the superhero doesn’t rely on any of these things to become who and what he is. Instead, he acquires his superpowers through the power of magic and mysticism, which he finds in Nepal under the Tutelage of the Ancient One.
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an ultra-successful neurosurgeon with the ego to match. He lives his life according to his rules, which makes him a selfish and self-centered bastard with little regard for the feelings of others. He loses the use of his hands after getting into a brutal car accident, which many in the audience will regard as his comeuppance.
But does the accident change him? No, it doesn’t because he continues his profession with disastrous results – his surgical operations are dismal operations. No, it doesn’t because he continues to treat others, even the only person he can turn to in times of trouble, with emotional brutality.
Fortunately, he’s referred to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who lives in Nepal. He becomes her student – and a fast learner, too, since he quickly learned in a few months what others have learned only in decades of study. He seems to be destined for magic!
Great Visuals, Poor Storytelling
As origin films go, Doctor Strange has among the best visuals so far in the MCU filmography. The audience is treated to a dazzling landscape filled with a dizzying array of colors from blood reds and cerulean blues to neon purples, a landscape not unlike the colored photos of the universe with its novae, quasars, and galaxies. You will feel like you’ve been transported to a dark yet beautiful world where magic is as much a fact of life as, say, the air you breath.
But when it comes to the storytelling, Doctor Strange falls short in many ways. First, there’s no explanation why Doctor Strange seemed to take to magic like a duck to water considering his egotistical personality and medical training. Second, the Ancient One’s character is portrayed by a white woman, a 180-degree deviation from the comic’s original Nepalese mystic.
While we’re up to gender-bending roles, gender equality and the like, the writers may have gone too far in the depictions. But since this is Hollywood, we cannot expect otherwise. It’s best to just enjoy the visuals while in a Cineplex theater.