Doctor Strange review: How does it impact Infinity War?

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LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 24: Benedict Cumberbatch in front of the Doctor Strange inspired 3D Art at a fan screening, to celebrate the release of Marvel Studio’s Doctor Strange at the Odeon Leicester Square, on October 24, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Disney)

The Sorcerer Supreme brought the mystic arts and supernatural threats to the forefront with a flurry of spectacular effects and mind-bending scenes. How has Doctor Strange changed the Marvel Universe, and how will it impact Infinity War?

In the lead-up to the release, Marvel promised that Doctor Strange would be a superhero unlike any other, inventive, bizarre, and, yes, magical. It would be, in a word–strange.

The final product mostly kept pace with these bold claims, delivering a movie that was unafraid to slap on a living, sentient cloak and ascend into the astral plane, but which also remained loyal to the look and feel of the greater MCU.

Having come along after the genre had already dominated the box office, the film sports an all-star cast of revered actors and heavy-hitters, and it manages to blend the sometimes campy material of the comics with the sensible faux-realist approach of the movies that have come before it without sacrificing either nostalgia or respectability.

It is not, however, a perfect movie. While the movie keeps you under its spell for the majority of its run-time, there are some fizzles.

What worked?

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Visually speaking, Doctor Strange is at the top of the class among the Marvel offerings. Only the Guardians of Galaxy films and Thor: Ragnarok even approach its ambition or originality when it comes to special effects and breathtaking scenes.

While those other movies were tasked with introducing the audience at large to the galactic elements of the lesser known “cosmic heroes,” Doctor Strange handles the heavy lifting on the supernatural side of the Marvel catalog.

Since the choice to center the Asgardians around science rather than mysticism, Strange is the first hero of the modern revival whose powers and origins are inextricably linked to magic. He is a magician, a sorcerer, and, though the film offers some lip service to the idea of plausible magical theory, the good doctor draws his power from the casting of invocations and the eldritch energy imbued in magical items.  It’s undeniably witchy stuff.

This had been a sticking point for the company previously, as prevailing thought was that fans would be less willing to accept the hokier heroes, and Strange is the hokiest of all, being inclined to shout out things like “By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth and the Vapors of Vishanti!” at the slightest provocation. Things that would make a junior high LARPing group giggle with embarrassment.

Yet, Doctor Strange manages to incorporate many old favorites ( Vaulting Boots of Valtorr, anyone?) without seeming downright ridiculous.

Much of this is possible because the movie is told through the discerning, empirical lens of Strange himself, played by Benedict Cumberbatch–who could add gravitas to a scene where a robot monkey fights an animated banana.

While some found his accent iffy, there’s no denying that Cumberbatch brings a pedigree that few others in the MCU can match. Most of them have grown into their roles, emerging as Hollywood A-listers in light of their hero turns. We love them, but not all of them would be well-suited for more challenging dramatic fare.

Not so with Cumberbatch, who steps into his wizard boots a fully formed star and delivers a performance that seems instantly iconic, forever linking him with Strange the way Robert Downey Jr is with Iron Man. After seeing him in the cloak with that trimmed goatee, it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else protecting the planet from mystical threats great and small.

The fight scenes are also exceptionally strong in this film, with combatants often scrambling about on shifting scenery, dueling with spells and spears, as the very face of reality changes around them, seeing buildings crumble and meld, fan out like a deck of cars, or crumble outright.

And the climactic “battle” between Doctor Strange and the terrifying Dormammu is one of the best scenes in the history of the MCU. Watching the fledgling sorcerer, who beings the movie an arrogant, self-centered man, outwit and outlast a being of incalculable power not through magic but through purposeful suffering in the name of others is one of the most clever and uplifting scenes in the genre. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.

Also of special note is the care and affection put into accurately representing the Sanctum Sanctorum, as remarkable a “home base” as Marvel has to offer. For anyone that is a fan of the Strange comics (or who remembers some of their favorite heroes infrequent visits there) seeing the Sanctum brought to life in exquisite, loving detail is a true watershed moment, comparable to seeing Superman’s Fortress of Solitude on the big screen for the first time.

It’s here that Doctor Strange scores its greatest accomplishment. As someone who grew up voraciously reading about the adventures of supernatural heroes like Swamp Thing, John Constantine, Werewolf by Night, and, especially The Sorcerer Supreme, it was marvelous to not only see one of the mystic heroes headline a big budget film, but to see one as a piece of a greater connected story, rather than an isolated anomaly. Great to see a magical hero taken seriously as a character in a larger narrative arc in a popular production.