“Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain.”
There was a time when a film like Doctor Strange might seem new and exciting, but Marvel’s mega-successful business model has had a consequence: it’s made spectacle, well, boring. To be clear, Doctor Strange isn’t bad. In fact, it is at times incredibly entertaining, and loaded-up with some super-cool visuals. It has a great cast — Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mads Mikkelsen, and Tilda Swinton! Yet, like many recent Marvel movies, it’s just a little too familiar. The film is following a cookie-cutter Marvel formula that was set in place all the way back in 2008 with Iron Man; in fact, it almost, at times, seems like a remake of Iron Man — brilliant goateed jerk learns to use his genius for good. Been there, done that. You could argue that if ain’t broke, why fix it? But sooner or later, Marvel would be wise to stretch itself out of its comfort zone.
Cumberbatch is Dr. Stephen Strange, a brilliant neurosurgeon who, like most characters Cumberbatch plays, is a bit of a prick. After a brutal (and brilliantly filmed) car accident destroys Strange’s hands, and by extension career, he seeks out a way to heal himself. Traditional medicine has failed, yet when Strange learns of a place called Kamar-Taj. There, Strange comes under the tutelage of The Ancient One (Swinton), a mystic who helps him become a sorcerer. And of course, with great power comes great responsibility.
Director Scott Derrickson is talented enough to elevate the standard trappings of the material he’s working with here, and the cast is more than game. Cumberbatch can play this type of character in his sleep, and there’s a reason for that: he’s very good at it. Chiwetel Ejiofor is stoic as Strange’s friend and eventual foe Mordo; Mads Mikkelsen does his Mads Mikkelsen thing as the glittery-eyed bad guy Kaecilius. Swinton is rather charming as The Ancient One, but in trying to correct negative Asian stereotypes inherent with the character — who was an old, Asian man in the comics — Derrickson ended up running into problems of whitewashing. To his credit, the filmmaker addressed these charges head-on in an interview with The Daily Beast:
“As we started to work on it, my assumption was that it would be an Asian character, that it would be an Asian woman,” he said. “We talked about Asian actors who could do it, as we were working on the script, every iteration of it—including the one that Tilda played—but when I envisioned that character being played by an Asian actress, it was a straight-up Dragon Lady.”
“I know the history of cinema and the portrayal of the Dragon Lady in Anna May Wong films, and the continued stereotype throughout film history and even more in television,” he continued. “I just didn’t feel like there was any way to get around that because the Dragon Lady, by definition, is a domineering, powerful, secretive, mysterious, Asian woman of age with duplicitous motives—and I just described Tilda’s character. I really felt like I was going to be contributing to a bad stereotype.”
“I was very aware of the racial issues that I was dealing with,” Derrickson later added in the same interview. “But I didn’t really understand the level of pain that’s out there, for people who grew up with movies like I did but didn’t see their own faces up there.”
Beyond the whitewashing issues, Doctor Strange also makes the mistake of underusing both Rachel McAdams and Michael Stuhlbarg, who are sidelined after Strange sets out on his journey. Stuhlbarg in particular is almost comically underutilized — why cast such a brilliant actor in a nothing part? It’s, well, strange.
These issues aside, Doctor Strange manages to be enjoyable enough for most of its runtime, and concludes with one of the best scenes ever created for the MCU: Strange, caught in a time-loop with an evil entity known as Dormammu, keeps repeating the same intro line — “”Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain!” — much to Dormammu’s confusion and annoyance. It’s a laugh-out-loud funny sequence, and Cumberbatch sells it nicely. More unique moments like this, and Doctor Strange would’ve been much more memorable than it ended up being.
The Blu-ray release of Doctor Strange arrives loaded with several features, including a rather amusing gag-real and another great “Team Thor” skit, as well as an informative commentary from Derrickson. The full list of features can be viewed below.
A Strange Transformation – Open your eye to a new dimension of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and see how the filmmakers brought one of comic books’ greatest characters to life.
Strange Company – Find out what it’s like for the cast to work on a Marvel film, and how Director Scott Derrickson engineered one of the most ambitious, imaginative films ever.
The Fabric of Reality – Take a closer look at the movie’s extraordinary sets, meticulously crafted costumes and amazingly detailed production elements.
Across Time and Space – Explore the countless hours of dance and fight choreography the actors endured in preparation for their physically demanding roles.
The Score-cerer Supreme – Join Composer Michael Giacchino and a full orchestra during live recording sessions, and experience the movie’s mind-bending music.
Marvel Studios Phase 3 Exclusive Look – Get an early peek at Marvel’s spectacular upcoming films, including Marvel Studios’ “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”
Team Thor: Part 2 – See more of the hilarious partnership between Thor and his roommate Darryl in this satirical short.
Audio Commentary by Director Scott Derrickson