Welcome back to Sound Off!, a semi-regular column where members of Speculative Chic gather together to chat about the latest BIG THING in entertainment. This time, we’ve torn through dimensions in order to chat about Doctor Strange, which premiered in the U.S. on Friday, November 4th, 2016.
Sound Off! is meant to be a group of reactions, but not necessarily a review. After all, while we are all individuals, even mutual love of something (or hate) can come from different places. You may find everything from critique to fangirling to maybe even hate-watching, but it’s safe to say that if you haven’t yet seen Doctor Strange and you read this post, you WILL be spoiled in some form or fashion.
Now, join Nancy, Nicole, Lisa, and J.L. Gribble as they talk about Doctor Strange!
Nancy: Magic? Welcome to the Marvel Cinematic Universe!
While magical elements have already been found in the Thor films, it’s always been as science we don’t yet understand. The film version of Doctor Strange rightfully takes the perspective that not everything needs to be logical and explainable. That Magic can be gorgeous, flashy and break all the rules of reality. To me, the biggest reason why Doctor Strange is a success is owed to director Scott Derrickson, who brings a wonderful visual sense to Doctor Strange‘s world. This can be found both in the magic-focused scenes are featured so heavily in the trailers and beyond. The sequence where Stephen Strange gets into the car accident that results in the loss of full function of his hands is incredibly tense.
The visuals in Doctor Strange are strong, but I can’t help but wish that the character work was just as strong. Don’t get me wrong. It’s far from bad, but too often it feels like we’re dealing with beta versions of many of these characters, who have yet be become the compelling players that we get excited about seeing in movie after movie. One thing that helps the film get over this hurdle is the high talent level of the cast. Benedict Cumberbatch is a great choice for Stephen Strange. Just take a look at the post-accident scenes that features Strange as a broken and lost man. Interestingly enough, it was another Benedict (Benedict Wong) who really grabbed my attention. Perhaps it’s because as a snarky librarian myself, I have a weakness for such characters, but in year where other superhero films seemed to be constantly shoving their Asian talent into the background, it’s nice to have one who’s more front and center (and funny!).
Which of course brings us to The Ancient One controversy. The character of The Ancient One is genuinely complex and interesting, and the always talented Tilda Swinton does a great job here. Unfortunately, this is marred by the fact that this is a white-washed character, and this role should have gone to a person of color. Movies don’t exist in a vacuum. Whitewashing is something that Hollywood has had an issue with for a while now, and whenever you chose to whitewash single a character, you’re making your film part of this negative narrative. An interview with Scott Derrikson has revealed that he did go into these casting decisions with the best of intentions, but has since seen why people have taken such an issue with them. I hope that going forward, the Marvel Cinematic Universe learns from these decisions.
Doctor Strange wasn’t the strongest of Marvel’s films, but I still had a great time watching it, thanks to the strong visuals and talented cast. I’m eager to see where these characters go next (especially Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo), and how Doctor Strange himself will interact with characters like Tony Stark and Scarlet Witch in the greater MCU.
Nicole: I went into this movie knowing absolutely nothing about Dr. Strange other than he had some sweet magical powers. My knowledge as a young Marvel fangirl was limited to the X-Men universe. But I like going in blind — it means I have no expectations in terms of how accurate the story is.
In short, it’s a good movie. And for all the complexity and terminology that gets thrown around, it’s actually got a rather simplistic story, and that’s okay. Man has personal demons. Man seeks to heal personal demons. Man discovers he’s in some serious shit. But instead of turning to run, man teams up with badass red cloak (seriously, I want to be friends with that thing), and takes evil being head on. And I do mean head on. Strange’s intelligence is his greatest weapon, which allows him to progress quickly and figure out solutions to even the trickiest of problems. As a man who doesn’t know how to quit, that’s the kind of powerful being you want on your side.
It’s always fun to see things like other dimensions and spiritual power come into play. If you know about astral projection, it’s interesting to see them use it in the movie. If you don’t, it’s an intriguing aspect that you might go home later to google and realize that no, they didn’t just make it up for the movie. Other scenes are essentially like Inception on crack. But who didn’t love seeing buildings twist and turn in Escher-like fashion? Now you have it in spades.
Though it would have been nice for the main villain to seem a little less omnipotent, I suppose it’s all right given the circumstances concerning how Strange saves the day. I’d like to say more, but I’d be spoiling everything. Strange’s next villain, however, is a slight letdown because you could see who it was going to be from a mile away. And I do admit to feeling dumb about not realizing the truth about the Infinity Stone.
It’s a solid movie; a good time with Cumberbatch filling in the Strange shoes (cape?) rather nicely, as well as every other actor and actress doing a lovely job. It really didn’t feel like 2 hours at all. Just remember to stick around for the extra mid and end snippets Marvel is known for!
Lisa: First, let’s talk about representation. I really hate what Marvel did with whitewashing the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). After being in a car accident, Strange’s hands are permanently damaged, and he travels to Kamar-Taj in Nepal to be healed. Kamar-Taj didn’t actually have any Nepalese (unless they were completely in the background), and the fact he travels there to study under a white sorceress felt stereotypical. There, under the tutelage of the Ancient One, he learns magic and suddenly becomes better than the others who all happen to be People of Color (PoC) or female. Must be nice to be so talented!
Okay, now that that is off my chest, the movie was decently entertaining. The special effects where amazing; it made Inception look like child’s play. Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor were great in their roles, but I have to say that the best character in the movie was the Cloak of Levitation.
I’m a fan of the Marvel cinematic universe, but this movie felt like an obligation to watch in order to make it to the next film in the series. I think where the character is going to shine is when he is dropped in the middle of the other Avengers like Tony Stark and Scarlet Witch. Maybe he’ll teach Wanda (Scarlet Witch) some magic. I’m still waiting to see my favorite Avenger, Captain Marvel. How many more years do we have to wait?
J.L. Gribble: Two ways exist to review Doctor Strange. One incorporates the criticism of the history of the character, whose powers are rooted in racist Orientalism views more common to the time period of the graphic novel’s introduction. Because I’ve never read a single issue of the comic, I’ll instead be focusing on the film as an independent entity. I think it’s important for any review of this film, however positive, to recognize both the character’s problematic history and the current controversy of the decision to cast a white woman as the Ancient One.
The above issues are a damn shame, because Doctor Strange was an awesome movie otherwise. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become delightfully intricate, and as much as I loved its last offering of Captain America: Civil War, it was a heavy, angst-ridden film. Like a palate cleanser, Doctor Strange returns us to the classic origin story template, with the added bonus of introducing non-Asgardian magic to the world. I felt that the magic was even packaged in such a way to not offend “modern sensibilities” of viewers who might scoff at such fairy-tale nonsense even after accepting robotic suits and genetic manipulation as acceptable makings of a superhero.
The casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular character was spot-on, and he did a fantastic job of differentiating Doctor Strange from his other well-known role of Sherlock Holmes (though there is a nod to a Sherlockian mannerism that had me giggling for days after I saw the film). Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong were great foils for Strange rather than standard supporting characters, and despite my issues with her casting, Tilda Swinton always shines in whatever role she portrays. I did appreciate that an attempt was made in the film to recognize exactly why she was a white woman, but it fell short in explaining the embrace of Oriental trappings rather than the Celtic she is purported to be.
Though it doesn’t come anywhere close to passing the Bechdel Test, I was also liked that this movie bucked the trend of winding in a love story as a subplot. Stephen Strange’s relationship with Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) is rich with established depth over the course of the story without reverting to cliché.
And finally, on to the last star of this film. Unfortunately, I’m not talking about Mads Mikkelsen, an acceptable villain whose backstory was never fleshed out enough for me to really care about why he ended up in conflict with the Ancient One. But a nod must be made to the special effects team for the stunning crystalline and kaleidoscopic effects used to portray the bending of reality and the effects of the multiverse. I can’t watch movies in 3D without risking a migraine, and this is the first movie in a long time to make me regret that fact.
And that’s it from our contributors! Did you see Doctor Strange? What were YOUR thoughts?