“Doctor Strange” (2016) FILM REVIEW
Written by Jambareeqi
Posted 9th April, 2018
When skilled neurosurgeon Dr. Steven Strange ends up in a car crash, he’s left with shaky hands, which makes him job impossible, and he struggles to find his new purpose. However, he learns of a secret society that teaches a powerful magic, a sorcery that could cure his hands, so he ventures to it’s leading teacher “The Ancient One”, and begins learning how to harness these fantastical reality bending powers.
Although, this leads him to being stuck in the middle of a war, as a former student of the ancient one called Kaecilius,wants to unleash a dark force called Dormammu, an inter-dimensional entity bent on destroying Earth. So, Steven must ask himself, should he join this fight? Or use his new gift of sorcery to fix his current life?
On a visual level, this film is incredibly arresting, bursting with wild inspiration, and supported by some stupendously amazing 3D CGI effects. The way the film embraces the creativity that comes with Steve’s powers is awesome, never holding back on what feats he can achieve as a wizard, and it’s this mind blowing creativity that serves as the movie’s biggest strength. It’s a bountiful parade of surreal and absurd cinematics, with the only limit being the director’s own imagination.
But the film isn’t all eye candy, as it dives into a realm of complex themes, including morality, death, magic, science, and disability. It’s great to see a super hero blockbuster film trying to delve into mature areas, as it explores the philosophy of so many subjects, openly dissecting the dimensions of life itself, and I respect it for doing these things. I did enjoy the conversations our characters shared, because there’s some fascinating debate going on between them, which made me ponder about the really interesting questions being posed, and I liked hearing the different points characters made.
Nothing is seen with a black and white point of view, characters are shown in variety of lights, our heroes are criticised for their mistakes or arrogance, and the film doesn’t shy away from going down dark roads. It’s this line of thought, that makes us wonder if our title hero will consider the path to evil, considering how attractive it is him, and the fact that the Ancient One has her own ethical blemishes.
This fleshes our protagonist into a deeper character, someone more human than your simple well meaning caped crusader. He even hears out Kaecilius, letting him explain his perspective, which becomes fascinatingly dark when we notice how this intrigues the doctor, but he still tries to counter argue the villain’s reasoning for murder.
Steven himself is a profusely egotistical man, a neurosurgeon who loves to toot his own horn, even when bragging isn’t called for at the time. Although, behind this self indulgence, is a man who genuinely cares about saving lives, someone who sees the great medical benefits of science, and discovers the same potential for sorcery.
What stands out the most about him though, is how he serves as an inspiration to the disabled! This is a guy who fights his condition, defies all possibilities, and uses his tragic setback as a chance to do greater things. I can imagine disabled audience members not only resonating with Steven, but also seeing him as a source of inspiration, a courageous hero to influence their spirits.
At the same time, as someone who has sometimes suffered from Thantophobia, I did sort of connect with the villain’s fear of death, as oddly grim as that may sound, but I couldn’t help seeing my own anxieties in his tearful eyes, and I wondered what kind of person I’d be if I had let my Thantophobia conquer me. That being said, Kaecilius isn’t the most interesting of bad guys, he has very little to do besides show off his sorcery, plus when it comes down to it, he’s just your typical ex-pupil turned evil anatagonist that we’ve seen time and time again (Kung Fu Panda, Star Wars, etc.)
The film’s heartfelt emotional core, is it’s romance between Steven and his hospital colleague Christine, who both share some adorable flirty chemistry when together. While Steven can be an asshole to her in the beginning, we can tell that there’s a kindred love between them, and he feels genuinely awful after hurting her. Christine herself is a skilled doctor, with a huge compassion for others, and you can tell that she’s got strong feelings for Steven, but isn’t hesitant to call him out on his arrogance.
It does still feel like most other Marvel films I’ve seen so far, the usual ingredients of watching a super hero learning to embrace his responsibilities, as a certain doomsday looms over the world, and he must be ready for the attack. Sure, it’s got more philosophical layers than most MCU blockbusters I’ve watched, but it’s still a showcase for speculator effects, with action being a dominating force for the narrative. While I enjoyed the film a lot, it’s not exactly new ground for the Studio, and I can’t imagine it standing out from their library of productions.
Before wrapping things up, I think I should address the elephant on the room, and talk about the casting of Tilda Swinton as “The Ancient One”. You see, this choice of thespian caused big controversy, as the character was originally an Asian man in the comic books, and so the casting decision was labeled as whitewashing.
Now, It must have been hard for director Scott Derrickson to adapt this character, as while he was of Asian descent, he was apparently a dated “Fu Manchu” stereotype, and bringing this caricature to the modern age would have been iffy. Derrickson did consider simply changing the Ancient One into an Asian woman, to distance them from being the offensive “Fu Manchu” trope, but then this would make her fit the equally cliche “Dragon Lady” category of racial stereotypes, and that would have opened up a whole other can of worms.
His solution was to change the character’s race entirely, as alterations are to expected for comic to film transitions, and while it is awesome to see a woman in her 50’s being empowered in a Hollywood movie, it ended up completely erasing all Asian ethnicity from the original character. I can understand the outrage audiences & critics felt, considering that this casting sends a discouraging vibe to Asian-Americans, at a time when the community is struggling to find representation in mainstream US Cinema. I have a friend that’s an Asian-American actress, who is very vocal about Whitewashing in her country’s movies, and I can totally imagine her being angry at this (I even get the feeling that she’s brought it up before).
Surprisingly, Derrickson didn’t try to come up with any shallow excuses, he actually apologised for not realising the ramifications of casting Swinton in the part, going as far as taking personal responsibility for any negative repercussions, and I respect him for this. It’s a casting choice that will haunt Marvel Studios, but at the same time, it’s a chance for them to learn from their mistake. This isn’t political correctness gone riot, it’s simply learning to be consciously aware about how we represent ethnic minorities in Western cinema.
To conclude, “Doctor Strange” is an engaging action fantasy with a bombastic sense of imagination and trippy psychedelia, starring a relatable disabled hero with realistic flaws, but when it comes down to it, it’s more of the same thing from Marvel Studios, and I can imagine it boring some people who are tired of the same formula. It had the potential to be something strikingly different, as it’s willing to explore some very interesting philosophical topics, but the focus is still on telling an action packed super hero origin story about a looming doomsday.