By Travis Trombley
Make no mistake, this is not the film Feige promised years ago. First, we were told it would NOT be another origin story. It is. Then we were told that - in the vein of Marvel’s genre-hopping, ala Winter Soldier and espionage and Ant-Man as heist film - Strange would mark Marvel’s foray into horror/suspense genre. Neither are traits of the film (the 2007 animated origin story released on DVD is more frightening). But while that Doctor Strange that isn’t might be a lost opportunity, Marvel’s 14th entry into MCU is still good.
And I don’t mean that in the sense that it’s simply NOT a fundamentally broken mess like Suicide Squad or the Fantastic 4 reboot. And I don’t mean it’s just another passable popcorn piece - comparing it to the disconcertingly similar 2011 Green Lantern film highlights Strange’s superb execution of familiar conventions. Indeed, this is a true-to-form origin story that maximizes characters, humor, and spectacle, despite suffering some familiar weaknesses.
The premise is an all-too familiar one. Dr Stephen Strange is the Tony Stark of medicine (like House, but without the drug problem). He’s an unflinchingly capable neurosurgeon, a brilliant physician, and a condescending jerk who fails to appreciate human life, seeing people as puzzles to be solved so he can further his reputation, not lives to be saved. In short, he makes for an ideal case study of the character transformation towards which these films seem drawn. His hubris catches up with him when texting-while-driving results in a brutal car crash, crippling Strange’s hands, the means by which he made his name.
Of course, Strange copes not by recognizing and moving beyond the faults in his character, but doubling down on them. He projects his disappointment and pain onto the world of less-capable laymen trying to help him, from fellow surgeons to his ER companion and once-lover Christine Palmer, his altruistic foil. He rejects meaning beyond a cynical reality, asserting that like everyone else, he’s just a “speck in an otherwise indifferent universe.”
When western medicine fails him, leaving him broke and desperate, Strange follows a rumor of more mystical healing to Kathmandu. There he meets the robe-wearing Mordo and the Ancient One, and despite initial reservations and difficulties, Strange soon finds himself a student of magic, and a gifted one at that. But before too long, a case of wrong-place-wrong-time casts him into a battle to - you guessed it - save all of humanity from principal antagonist Kaecilius, an ex-pupil of the Ancient One who seeks to “free the world” from the insults to life that are time, death, and decay by summoning Dormammu, an interdimensional entity who seeks to engulf all life into his timeless domain, the “Dark Dimension.”