This review contains Spoilers.
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The Marvel Cinematic Universe has given us many types of heroes. There are men in super suits, a boy bitten by a radioactive spider, a man irradiated by gamma rays, a being brought to life by an infinity stone, a norse god, a former Soviet super spy and a guy that’s really good with a bow, plus a girl that’s been made, in-human. Yet in all of this there has been something missing, something that’s a little esoteric and outside reality and this year Marvel fills that void with it’s newest hero, Doctor Strange.
Doctor Stephen Strange is the quintessential man of the 21st century. He’s a materialist that believes there is nothing outside his five senses that he or science cannot explain. He’s arrogant and a complete narcissist, incapable of having anything in his life be more important than himself and to top it off he takes no accountability for the actions that lead him to loosing everything; because paying attention to your phone on a windy road while it’s raining is someone else’s fault. The beauty of the film is how he will be confronted by his beliefs and way of life and find it lacking.
All There is
The dominate view in the modern, scientific world is that there is nothing beyond the five senses that cannot or will not be explained by science. The idea of a soul or anything beyond the material is rejected. Strange is firmly in this camp until he finds himself broken from the accident, unable to heal himself though his intellect and medicine. At the end of his rope, he finds hope in another way. The Ancient One literally opens his mind to whole new realms, dimensions, plains of existence and shows just how little he truly know about the nature of reality. Watching him learn how just how inadequate he is brings to mind Isaiah 55: 8-9,
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Strange must unlearn what he has learned about the universe, in fact Mordo who first finds him and brings him to The Ancient One tells him, “Forget everything that you think you know.”
During his training, Strange struggles to let go of his feelings of inadequacy because of his disfigured hands, leading him to have difficulty with even the simplest magic. The Ancient One tells him that to find the power he must surrender control before he can gain it back. The idea is ridiculous to him and his “modern” sensibilities, but it mirrors Jesus’ words in Matthew 10, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Who’s Number One
One of the most important moments in the film is an interaction with Strange and The Ancient One. Strange has begun to excel in his magical studies but his arrogance as a doctor transfers itself to arrogance as a sorcerer until he is challenged to think differently.
The Ancient One: Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all.
Dr. Stephen Strange: Which is?
The Ancient One: It’s not about you.
It’s an incredible scene that speaks to the biblical idea seen from the beginning of time, that it’s not about us it’s about something much bigger. Watching Strange learn his lesson as he confronts Dormammu, who he has lock in an eternal time loop to save earth, is perfect. Strange is willing to spend beyond eternity, dying over and over again, if that’s what it takes to ensure the safety of the planet. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Strange has finally been able to let go of his arrogance and narcism, realizing that there are more important things that just himself.
With all of the praise for the themes, one would assume that the rest of the movie is just as good, but it’s only partially the case. Sadly, the villain suffers the “Marvel Syndrome” which is, a villain that’s not all that interesting or dynamic. And unfortunately this also the case with our main protagonist. Doctor Strange is an arrogant jerk, very similar to Tony Stark and his turn in the movie, while thematically well done is not as impactful as it should be. In the end it seems to easy and the turn lacks any sense of depth that one would expect. The movie gets lost in the kaleidoscope visuals, forgetting that the real story is the characters, leaving the viewer feeling cheated. Doctor Strange feels less like it’s title would suggest and more like another formulaic Marvel origin story.
Luckily Benedict Cumberbatch was cast and immediately has the charisma needed to carry the movie, without him, the lack of depth would be detrimental. All together, the cast is solid with Tilda Swinton, as The Ancient One, the true stand out, even though she does live beyond this film (which is a loss to the series). The music is good, Michael Giacchino has created one of the more memorable themes in the MCU. All together the movie is thematically wonderful yet suffers from rushed character development and more focus on empty CGI spectacle than heart. Doctor Strange is rate 3.5 out of 5 levitating capes.