Doctor Strange tells the origin story of the titular Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a famous neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands in a car accident. In his desperation, he seeks the help of a group of mystics and sorcerers led by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). As he learns the mystic arts, he must battle with Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a rogue sorcerer who is trying to find a way to bring eternal life to the people.
There was a lot of controversy around the film regarding the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One and the stereotypical tropes that Doctor Strange relies on (the exotic East as a source of mysterious power). People who know me know that I was pretty upset by these things but what they probably don’t know is the reason why I was upset. It wasn’t because I thought the movie would be terrible before I’ve even seen it and that nobody should enjoy this movie because of these reasons. Its because it’s a problem that somehow still continues to exist in the movie industry today. Hollywood would always rather hire a white actor over an asian actor because they sell. The common audience don’t often go to Asian countries to see what it’s actually like there, so they don’t ask questions when these stereotypes crop up again and again. If it seems like I’m targeting this film in particular, it’s simply because it’s the most recent example of these problems.
Did any of these problems stop me from enjoying this movie? Hell no.
The movie reminds me a lot of the original Iron Man movie with it’s smaller, simpler narrative. Dr. Strange also reminds me a lot of Tony Stark, though, regrettably, Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t quite have the same charisma that Robert Downey Jr. does. Benedict Cumberbatch is a brilliant actor, though, and he does his job as Dr. Strange incredibly well. In fact, this entire cast of characters was surprisingly well put together. Tilda Swinton plays the part of the Ancient One with grace and poise but also with ferocity, making her one of my favorite characters in the movie. Chiwetel Ejiofor is both charismatic and harsh as Mordo, Strange’s ally in arms. Even Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius garners some sympathy, but only in the one scene he gets to be sympathetic, which continues the trend of Marvel villains being boring.
The only actress to really get the short end of the stick is Rachel McAdams, who is relegated to being the token girlfriend. Even though she has her own life and is an accomplished nurse, her whole role in the movie is to be the representation of Strange’s former life. Maybe I’m being too harsh because, to be fair, they used to be lovers but they broke up after the accident, which makes her more of the token friend. Still, I hope that if they plan to use her again in the future, that they actually give her more to do than patch up Strange.
The main issue with the film is that it relies on so many tropes that this movie feels more like a paint by numbers Marvel movie. The only part that was different is in how Strange deals with the issues. He might very well be the only one in the entire MCU whose first instinct isn’t to fight or kill anyone. As a doctor, he’s tasked with saving lives, not taking them and it was nice to see him solve problems through bargaining rather than killing.
I’ve listed numerous problems the film has but I still enjoyed the movie. People seem to forget that you can both enjoy a movie immensely and still be aware of the problematic things that exist within it and by contrast to other movies, the problems in this movie are small in comparison. Tilda Swinton is fantastic and ended up being my favorite character. All in all, it’s a fun movie with some of the trippiest visuals I’ve ever seen.