Dr. Strange magically expands the Marvel Universe

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

After the arrogant but highly acclaimed neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, “Sherlock”) loses the greater function of his hands in a car accident, he grows obsessed with reversing the damage by whatever means necessary.

As he pours all of his resources into ineffective surgeries and pushes his few friends away, Strange resorts to seeking out a mysterious Eastern remedy, which is actually a society of sorcerers. The desperate doctor begs to be taught the same power for the sole purpose of restoring the use of his hands, but over the course of the movie, his selfish motivations expand to address something more evil on the horizon.

At first glance, “Doctor Strange” is simply another superhero origin story — the seventh, to be exact. While it does have unique qualities and flair that make it stand out among the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the plot structure is not particularly different from the previous six movies.

Therefore, moviegoers should go into the theater expecting a familiar story, but one that is told in a more fantastical way — think of “Iron Man” but with more magic and visual effects.

Despite the similarity to previous Marvel movies, the visuals are both literally and figuratively out of this world. In comics, it is easier to portray Strange’s magic in before and after frames: the sorcerer waves his hands and yells a magic word. The film connects the two, in a manner that is as visually stunning as it is mind bending. “Dr. Strange” is worth viewing for visuals that compare to the spectacles of the dream sequences in “Inception.”

In terms of the characters, Cumberbatch does an excellent job in his performance as the egotistical Strange. Though he is almost type-casted for his portrayal of arrogant geniuses, Stephen Strange’s journey from selfish to selfless is only enhanced by Cumberbatch’s brilliant performance.

Moreover, Strange’s characterization explores some of the more complex themes behind arrogance, and it is easy to see the growth of the character as he is forced to question his own beliefs and motivations. Unfortunately, the good Doctor’s complexity comes at the cost of the supporting cast, whose additionally great acting does not make up for lack of character depth.

Although Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen, “Hannibal”) is the main antagonist, besides Strange’s ego, the character is overwhelmingly underdeveloped. He creates plane bending chaos in the world, and yet by the end of the film his name is easily overshadowed by his memorable fractured eyeshadow. His purpose is not to pose a threat to the Marvel Universe but rather to serve as a method of characterizing Strange through reflection.

Known as the Ancient One, Tilda Swinton (“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”) plays the Sorcerer Supreme. Though she is likeable, intelligent and mysterious, she exists only to guide Strange to his magical enlightenment. While the film does force audiences to reflect on whether her means justify her ends, it has little to no impact on the plot.

With arguably the most characterization of the supporting cast, Strange’s colleague  Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor, “The Martian”) acts as a foil to Strange. He depicts an experienced, more stiffly motivated character, as opposed to Strange’s flexible, novel approach to conflict. Despite the wealth of acting talent in the cast, the film is unfortunately less than the sum of its parts.

Notwithstanding these faults, the movie still provides an entertaining time for Marvel movie fans. It epitomizes what the studio does best, and it uses a working formula to create something new and exciting.

The most significant effect of “Doctor Strange” is the introduction of a new and interesting mechanism that the Marvel Universe now possesses, magic. Never before has the comic book franchise put actual magic and mysticism in its movies, preferring a more scientific explanation of the weirder things in the universe.

However, with opportunity comes danger, and the limitless power of magic could create difficult situations for Marvel in the future. With the idea that everything can be fixed with magic now on the table, the temptation to abuse this element thematically is possible.

Strange’s standalone film set a solid precedent by deftly handling the plot capabilities of magic. The ending of the film is the most questionable element. While it was clever, it was somewhat
anticlimactic. Additionally, the film is  reminiscent of Richard Donner’s “Superman,” released in 1978.

Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” comes with no surprises — the actors are excellent and the directing is skillful. The new hero brought to life by Cumberbatch may become a new fan favorite. Though the newest Marvel origin story is unoriginal, Strange’s active role makes the future possibility of the Marvel cinematic universe as interesting as it is strange.