The Avengers, and related superhero films in the Marvel universe, have not fared well in my opinion, with endless PG violence, endless pointless action, endless destruction and minimal plots. There has been the odd exception, like the first Iron Man film, but generally I think the film world would have been better if Marvel had never existed (though the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films would have been missed).
Doctor Strange, however, is unique in the Marvel superhero film world, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing a super-intelligent hero who believes it’s always wrong to kill and whose arrogance is constantly being challenged by The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton in yet another utterly distinct role and look), leading him to learn that life is not all about him. This in turn leads him to a very unique showdown with the film’s super-baddie, in which Doctor Strange uses no weapons at all, but only the power of self-sacrifice (and a magic time-bracelet).
Magic is what sets Doctor Strange apart, and almost all of the action scenes focus on magic, resulting in spectacular visuals which are much more enjoyable (on the whole) than any action scenes previously featured in Marvel films. As for the plot, it’s not as intelligent as it should be (there are many holes), but it’s mildly diverting, thanks to Swinton’s performance as The Ancient One and Cumberbatch’s always entertaining presence. The plot: Dr. Strange is an arrogant surgeon whose reckless driving leads to an accident that destroys his hands. To get those beloved hands working again, Dr. Strange seeks out the healing powers of The Ancient One, not realizing that magic is involved. Eventually, he allows himself to overcome his skepticism and learn, discovering that he is a natural.
I wasn’t satisfied with the way the story was told, wishing there had been much more attention paid to Dr. Strange’s journey toward becoming Doctor Strange. And the PG violent action may not have been endless but there was certainly more than I wanted to see.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed Doctor Strange much more than I had expected to (low expectations are always helpful). I appreciated an ending that wasn’t entirely sold to the myth of redemptive violence and I appreciated the performances of the two actors mentioned above as well as Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, Dr. Strange’s fellow doctor, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, a fellow magician. So Doctor Strange gets a solid ***+. My mug is up for my favourite non-Spider-Man Marvel film.