Illustration: Sheri Kim

Dr. Stephen Strange: It’s Strange!

Kaecilius: Maybe, who am I to judge?

The latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe introduces Dr. Strange, a charming but narcissistic neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands after a tragic car accident. After trying every treatment and surgery known to man, he decides to seek help elsewhere, discovering the mystic arts in the process.

The story is nothing extraordinary. Strip away the exceptional cast and the innovative CGI and there seems to be nothing of substance, merely witty remarks and comic-relief. In truth, I’m just tired of watching the same old Marvel superhero story on repeat: someone faces a tragedy and is forced to do something, only to find out that they have some special power that allows them to save the world. It got old a long time ago. There are, however, a few improvements. The imperfections of the protagonist were intriguing, and the idea of a mystic vanguard and the introduction of a new universe were done well. But even those parts seem cut and paste from other movies of the superhero genre.

Marvel pulled out all the stops to cast an all-star crew to portray the characters in Doctor Strange. The cast transfixes the audience just as much as the mind-bending effects.

The real star of the movie was Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One. Marvel took a massive risk in replacing an Asian character with a Celtic one, but I have to say that I found the risk worth the results. Although there may be claims of whitewashing, the Tibetan Ancient One was already the embodiment of the Asian stereotype. Instead, each word out of Swinton’s mouth is deliberately chosen to hold great weight. There are no wasted words. While the Asian Sorcerer Supreme was a two-dimensional character with little to contribute beyond ‘wise proverbs’ and the occasional deus ex machina, his Celtic counterpart is the epitome of ambiguity. In the movie, Swinton has no gender, no age, no race. For most of the movie, she is an enigma, making it all the more satisfying when her secrets are revealed.

It came as no surprise that Benedict Cumberbatch is a very good Dr. Strange. The moment he was cast as the Sorcerer Supreme, I knew I wasn’t going to be disappointed. In fact, there are very few differences between Dr. Strange and Cumberbatch’s famous role as Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps the only new revelation was that Cumberbatch is capable of showing humility, as Dr. Stephen Strange learns to embrace the current instead of fighting it.

The CGI was mind-blowing, exhilarating, awesome, psychedelic, revolutionary, innovative… I could go on. Even with the mediocre story, the special effects made the movie amazing. Marvel took CGI to the next level, outdoing not only itself but also the rest of the CGI world. Comic book readers found themselves possessed as they saw Steve Ditko’s artistic madness come alive. In the Mirror Dimension, we see Inception on steroids as the cityscape pulses in waves. The exceptional acting made sure that the CGI didn’t take away from the plot, instead it enhanced the storyline. Director Scott Derrickson makes sure that the CGI only serves to enhance the scenes and never overtake them. The CGI is carefully crafted to never overwhelm the audience. Every once in awhile, however, we are treated with a scene that gives CGI the center stage, fully immersing the audience in the world of Doctor Strange.

With such an intense story and engaging graphics, there was a need for comic-relief to cut through and relax the audience. Marvel more than willingly obliged, living up to its reputation and giving the viewers their fill of quips and witty remarks. The comic relief balanced the heaviness of the film. Marvel’s true achievement, however, was the conveyance of the astral and mystic world—with all of its tools and tricks—to the audience without putting them to sleep. Derrickson makes sure to space each lesson out so as to give us enough time to let each concept sink in.

The sheer combination of an all-star cast, a new type of a superhero, and the breath-taking use of CGI, makes us Marvel at the Inception of Doctor Strange.