Just because the fanboy wars rage on about DC vs Marvel doesn't mean that I'm going to stop watching Marvel movies......especially when they continue to be good.
I'm still waiting for Marvel Studios to make a movie that is on par with their best effort, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but their latest effort Doctor Strange, while not quite being on that level, still is a far more adult and "darker" film than most of the turns in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Ironically, it was Winter Soldier that gave us the first hint of Stephen Strange in the MCU when Jasper Sitwell admitted in passing that he was one of Hydra's numerous targets in the Project Insight mass assassination plan. After watching Doctor Strange, you can see why he might have been on their radar, especially given what he has now become.
Stephen Strange is quite simply a jerk, an egotistical jack wagon with an affinity for musical knowledge and a gifted surgeon with the steadiest hands in the profession......until a car accident destroys them, giving him permanent nerve damage and a constant shake in his hands that effectively destroys his confidence and his career in the process. Desperate to get his life back, he finds his way to Nepal where he meets Baron Mordo and The Ancient One, who teach him just how expansive and dimensionally deep the world really is, setting Strange on his path to become the iconic "Sorcerer Supreme."
Doctor Strange is one of the most solid origin stories in the MCU to this point. It's not quite as good as Iron Man or Captain America: The First Avenger in that respect, but it does a great job of setting up Strange's life before, during and after his transition into a sorcerer. The movie really does build on the world created within the MCU over the past eight years in the sense that we as the audience have already reached a point where there's just not a whole lot that we haven't seen already to believe. Through 13 movies we've seen aliens, super soldiers, robots, artificial intelligence, mutants(legally called "enhanced" thanks to FOX) and magic, so nothing in Doctor Strange needs a ton of explanation other than directly what it is. Unlike Captain America: Civil War though, you don't need the previous 13 movies to understand any plot points in this one, which is comforting even at this late stage of the MCU in total.
Doctor Strange has one of Marvel's strongest casts for their movies, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role doing what he does best: Be awesome. Does the guy have a bad role? Seriously? Not that I have seen myself and he puts on the American accent for this one in a way that is uncomfortably believable. I'm so used to his British accent in Sherlock, Star Trek Into Darkness and in any of his public interviews, so to see him do American as well as he does in this movie all the way through is just one more notch in his belt for his acting capability. As expected, his addition to the MCU roster is a welcome one and I look forward to his interactions with the Avengers and other characters down the road.
The rest of the cast is solid in support, especially Chiwetel Ejiofor's Mordo and Benedict Wong appropriately playing the character of Wong. For all of the controversy surrounding Tilda Swinton's "whitewashed" casting as The Ancient One, she played her part as well as an accomplished actress of her quality could play it. Swinton has always been a master at transforming herself for different roles over the years and this is no exception. Accurate or not, you've never really seen her like this before in a movie and that's one of her greatest qualities as an actress. There are definitely those who oppose her casting and that is completely understood as a valid point, but her performance is still solid for the movie.
Solid is more than I can say for Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius, another villain in a long line of "plot device villains" for the MCU. He certainly wasn't bad by any stretch, but he was a lot like Christopher Eccleston's Malekith in Thor: The Dark World in that he was just there to move the plot along and that's about it. You get an understanding of his motivations especially in the third act of the movie, but he's still not the overarching, menacing villain that we've been looking for in the MCU. Loki is still the best villain they have by far as we continue to wait for the arrival of Thanos, who is still a year and a half away it seems.
Have you noticed how I haven't really mentioned Rachel McAdams? That's not because she was bad in the movie, it's because she didn't really do a whole lot in it, which didn't take away from the movie but it was surprising to see. So was the film's runtime at just under two hours. There aren't any pacing issues and it doesn't really feel too fast, but faster than I would have expected for an MCU movie. When it ended, it felt like we should have gotten 10 to 15 minutes more, but that's not because of Doctor Strange itself. It's really because of the longer movies we've been given from Marvel Studios recently with Civil War, and even Avengers: Age of Ultron. Sure Ant-Man was slightly under two hours, but that was a pure comedy movie so it didn't feel odd at all.
I shouldn't have to say this, but given that about 20 people left the theater when the credits started to roll, it seems that some people might still need to know that you'll want to stay seated through the entirety of the credits. There's a mid-credits scene AND an end credits scene, both of which are very good. I won't say what they are, but I will say this: The mid-credits scene will make you ask a few questions about things that appear to have already happened in the MCU that we haven't seen yet, and the end credits scene is specifically related to the future of Doctor Strange, who of course "will return."
One last thing: Doctor Strange is without question the most visually stunning of the MCU movies to this point. Instead of a flood of CGI armies, ships and explosions we get worlds and realities bending to the will of the sorcerers in battle. Think Inception visuals times 10. That's how the sorcerers fight in this movie, not only using spells to make weapons and items but to also play with gravity and balance by literally changing the world around them. It's the most incredible visual effects work Marvel Studios has done to this point in my opinion and it was great to see them do something different with it. I hope to see more of it.
The bottom line is that Doctor Strange is awesome and while people argue about all of the MCU movies being freshly rated on Rotten Tomatoes, in my opinion the truth is that they all deserve it and the trend continues with this latest film. A great way to end this 2016 in comic book movies, all of which have been spectacular to me.