Marvel’s latest action movie carries unexpected philosophic undertones
Dr. Stephen Strange was a well renowned neurosurgeon with a wit as sharp as a scalpel and with hands as steady as a rock. That was, until he got in a car accident which gave him severe nerve damage in his hands, effectively ending his career. Armed with nothing but his mind, he burns through all of his money seeking desperately for anything that might heal his injuries, but finds nothing. Out of options, he ends up traveling to Kathmandu, Nepal to visit “the Ancient One” in a last-ditch effort to save the life he once knew. He gets far more than he bargained for, learning how to tap into the multiverse with the power of his mind and alter the reality around him. Insert the generic super-hero movie plot here and you pretty much get the gist of the movie. An evil, all-powerful entity threatens the world and Dr. Strange foils the plot with his newfound super powers.
Visually, the film was incredibly impressive, it was one of the few movies that I would recommend seeing in 3-D. Urban landscapes get deconstructed and rearranged into intricate fractal patterns as the characters use their mind powers to alter physical reality. The audience is dragged outside of space-time along with Dr. Strange as he discovers the vast multiverse, shattering the illusions of what he once considered ultimate reality. Action scenes were well choreographed and packed with adrenaline, while the cinematography was technically excellent though uninspired.
None of this surprised me however, because it is what Marvel movies are known for. What did surprised me was the philosophic depth that was present in this film. Dr. Strange follows western thought as far as it can take him, and when it fails to heal his hands (which serve as a metaphor for his identity) he heads to the east. In this way the film makes an attempt at bridging the gap between two vastly different cultures and ways of thinking, between the material and the mystical, the scientific and the spiritual. The central question this movie wrestles with, however; is the idea of immortality. The antagonist of the film is motivated by his quest for eternal life, which he will do anything to acquire. On the other hand, the Ancient One tells Dr. Strange that death is what gives life meaning, the fact that our days are numbered give each moment significance.
As Christians I think this is an important question to engage with. We follow Jesus for the promise of eternal life that he offers us in heaven, but what does that look like? Once we have seen God face to face, being restored to perfection without sin, what is the purpose of existing? What more will we have to learn, to see, to experience? Will heaven get boring after several million years? If we had an infinite amount of time on earth, would we accomplish anything, or simply procrastinate for all eternity because there is no rush or urgency to do anything?
While Dr. Strange poses a lot of interesting questions, it does not take the time to develop those themes, it simply mentions them and then moves on to more action sequences. This is to be expected, because it is a super-hero movie after all, but this film is beginning to push the form in a positive, more thoughtful direction.
Benedict Cumberbatch, who I believe is becoming one of the greatest actors of our generation, gave an excellent performance. The ultimate purpose of this film is to develop the character of Dr. Strange so that he can become a part of the larger Marvel cinematic-universe, and Cumberbatch’s performance gave the character depth that the script certainly didn’t. Despite all the positives, the movie was extremely formulaic and predictable, and the character development was extremely rushed to leave plenty of time for fight-scenes. I definitely think this is the best Marvel movie that has come out to date, but it is still a Marvel movie. Overall I give it a 5 out of 10.