One reason comic book movies provide great conversation starters with faith groups is that they often show the hero’s journey—how he or she got superpowers, how he or she struggled with them and then came out on the other end with the firm resolve to use their gifts to help people. Doctor Strange, the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, does not live up to this ideal.
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) saves lives in the operating room. He’s a brilliant neurosurgeon and he knows he’s good. Arrogant and self-serving, he picks and chooses which cases are worthy of his precious talent. Deciding the rules don’t apply to him, he takes phone calls while recklessly driving and then looks at some scans. Distracted, he skids off the road. The accident costs him the use of his hands.
So much was Doctor Strange’s purpose found in his skills as a surgeon, he exhausts his resources looking for someone who can make him whole. His search takes him to Katmandu, Nepal, to a place called Kamar-Taj and to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who teaches her students the mystical arts, otherwise known as magic. She and her followers, use the magic to protect the world against Dormammu, the ruler of the Dark Dimension.
Interested only in healing his hands, Strange discovers that magic could heal him but the Ancient One urges him to use the magic he learns for a higher purpose: to help them keep the Dark Dimension at bay. Even after fighting the bad guys, Doctor Strange still wants to go back to being a famous surgeon. Only when the Ancient One tells him that, as brilliant as he is, he still misses the most simple of lessons: It’s not about you, does he reconsider.
The visual effects of the film invoke thoughts of Inception as the sorcerers twist the physical world around in the Mirror Dimension and the trippy colors director Scott Derrickson uses are a treat for the eyes, but the film disappoints in so many ways. The acting is uninspired. Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelson, Rachel McAdams, and Benedict Wong inhabit characters that have little development. Only Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One has any real pathos.
And the hero’s journey? It’s not really there at all. Once Strange starts training, he barely struggles with what he learns. He seems to pick up his magic much too fast, becoming on a par with those who have been practicing it for years. While he does redeem himself at the end of the film, finally sacrificing his own ego for the greater good, it feels false and forced, almost like he could say with a sigh, “Well, OK. I guess I’ll help you out.”
Doctor Strange is a lesser-known figure in the Marvel universe and compared to films about the Avengers, Doctor Strange, as a film, comes out lesser, too.