This article originally appeared on Lit To Lens on July. 9, 2017.
Watching Doctor Strange I couldn’t help but think about 2010’s Inception.
Both films depict spacial manipulation – Inception within dreams, and Doctor Strange within reality (or as real as you believes these Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to be). And I couldn’t help but wonder what Inception would look like in 2017. How much better would those effects look?
The visual effects in Doctor Strange are worth the price of admission (or, in my case, a $9/month Netflix subscription). It’s certainly not the first Marvel movie to receive an Academy Award for visual effects, but frame-for-frame Doctor Strange relies more heavily on technological advancement than any of its predecessors. Perhaps ironic, because this is a movie about spirituality and sorcery.
For the uninitiated, Doctor Strange is the 14th entry in the MCU. We follow Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), an extraordinarily cocky and talented neurosurgeon working in New York City. His skill lies in the steadiness of his hands – his hands are his lifeblood. But this is a Marvel movie. Thanks to a car accident, his gift becomes his curse. His bones are fractured and his nerves frayed. His hands will shake for the rest of his life. His life is lost.
Unless his hands can be healed. This sends him to Nepal and a secret compound called Kamar-Taj where, instead of finding illicit and groundbreaking healing treatments, he’s confronted with a mind-bending display of sorcery and a necessary bit of exposition:
While The Avengers protect the physical world, Kamar-Taj and its three connected Sanctums protect the world from magical and mystical threats. He spends the majority of the second act learning how to channel and manipulate mystical energy, while a baddie and former Kamar-Taj student – Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) – contacts a bigger baddie called Dormammu from the Dark Dimension.
You see, within the Dark Dimension, time is non-existent. Kaecilius would prefer to live forever (time is a major motif here) and thus aims to weaken Earth’s mystical defenses so that it may be absorbed into the Dark Dimension.
There’s a scenery-folding battle in which Strange manipulates time (with the Eye of Agamotto…an infinity stone) in a way that makes Dormammu angry and order is restored. Except that bending the physical laws of the universe is against the rules (kinda) and Strange makes an enemy of formerly friendly sorcerer Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor).
It’s not confusing, I promise. And yet, like other standalone entries into the MCU, the movie generates more questions than it answers. That’s a ploy to get you to watch Thor: Ragnarok, no doubt, but it’s yet another link in a series building to something we don’t yet know.
We get glimpses of Thanos in post-credits scenes here and there (though not in Doctor Strange), and we know infinity stones will serve a purpose eventually…but 14 movies in and we’re fighting a city-shattering battle in Hong Kong against Kaecilius and fending off Dormammu in the sky? That’s not building to anything. That’s spinning our wheels while we wait for The Avengers to do something.