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8th November 2016

Review: Doctor Strange

Marvel-obsessive or merely a general amateur film buff, Doctor Strange’s lively plot will certainly get your heart racing

A classic American superhero film produced by Marvel Studios, Doctor Strange can be enjoyed by an audience of all ages. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as fictional superhero Doctor Stephen Vincent Strange, the film really does offer something for everyone.

The fourteenth film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel-obsessives will find themselves frothing at the mouth. But the great thing about Doctor Strange is that the audience can watch it is a stand-alone film and still understand the plot in all its complexity.

Doctor Strange is an arrogant neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands in a car accident. After weeks of unsuccessful self-experimentation on his hands, Strange hears about a man named Jonathan Pangborn: a paraplegic who was able to walk again, mysteriously defying the laws of modern science. Intrigued by his remarkable story, Strange meets Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt) who directs him to a secret compound in Kathmandu, Nepal known as Kamar-Taj. Sceptically, Strange travels to Kamar-Taj and meets a sorcerer, “the Ancient One” (Tilda Swinton), who teaches mystic arts and confirms she had taught Pangborn. Desperate to heal his hands, Strange begs to be taught by the sorcerer. Reluctantly, the Ancient One agrees and so Strange’s mystical arts tutelage begins.

At the heart of the film is a concept known as the Astra Plane. Popularised by neo-Rosicrucianism and Theosophy during the late 19th and early 20th century, the Astra Plane is an intermediate plane of existence between earth and heaven. In Doctor Strange, the Astra Plane specifically refers to the realm of minds, which individuals can access by projecting their minds onto this realm. Moreover, the film seeks to destabilise Cartesian subjectivity.

“I think therefore I am” are the famous words of 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes, alluding to the idea the mind and the body are separate. The film, however, suggests that the body and the mind are intrinsically linked. The film also makes constant reference to a “multiverse”, questioning the notion of a singular universe but instead suggesting infinite possible universes exist.

The most powerful scene in the film is the scene in which the Ancient One is dying. As she is dying, the Ancient One’s Astral projection (basically her “spirit”) floats off to talk to Strange, also in Astral form. With time seemingly frozen, the two characters look out over the skyline of New York. In contrast to the fast-paced, heart-racing and action-packed scenes that dominate the bulk of the film, this scene is somewhat more sombre. Strange is keen to help the Ancient One survive but the Ancient One is resistant. Instead, she turns to Strange and says (to paraphrase) “death is what gives life meaning… knowing your days are number”.

The main villain in the film is Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) is obsessed with the idea of immortality, describing time as prison within which we are all trapped. But the film reminds us that life is precious and it is this fragility that makes special moments all the more special. Although this message may be slightly cheesy, it’s a nice thought.

Critics have pointed out that Doctor Strange has the classics flaws of an MCU film. The story is generic. The villain is arguably underutilised. There is also a love story between Strange and former-lover now co-worker at the Hospital Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) which isn’t fully developed. But Doctor Strange’s cinematography is excellent, especially during the final scenes shot in Hong Kong which successfully encapsulate the vibrancy, dynamism and ambience of the city. Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance is as slick and flawless as you would expect. Overall, Doctor Strange is great MCU production starring a great cast with a heart-racing plot, cloaked in some interesting philosophical themes.

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