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Doctor Strange's Worldview is Engaging but Troublesome

<i>Doctor Strange</i>'s Worldview is Engaging but Troublesome

This is a tale that's more than merely strange, including astral projection and other practices that are troubling from a Christian perspective. At the same time, Doctor Strange is much more philosophically fascinating and briskly entertaining than other Marvel movies. 2.5 out of 5.


The latest Marvel superhero may be an expert in Western medicine, but when arrogant but brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) suffers crippling injuries from a car accident, he looks to the East for healing. In Nepal he's awakened to a life beyond the physical, but this is not the spiritual life that characterizes traditional monotheistic belief. Under the tutelage of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), Strange learns that his skepticism of the spiritual realm has been misplaced, and that a larger battle against dark forces is underway. Embracing his identity a sorcerer, Strange joins with Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong) to fight Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).

What Works?

The casting—controversial in that a Caucasian woman (Swinton) portrays the Ancient One, a departure from the comics—is nevertheless hard to improve upon. Cumberbatch sparks during his early scenes as the title character, while those unfamiliar with the comics will have a hard time hereafter imaging anyone else but the always charismatic Swinton as the Ancient One.

What Doesn't?

No amount of special effects wizardry can keep the finale of yet another Marvel movie from running out of steam long before the credits roll. And while I found this film enjoyable in terms of pacing and visual inventiveness, it seriously troubled me to see so much Eastern mystical practice (not just theological discussion). I was taught that such stuff is, frankly, occultic, and it's probable that the content here is going to bother a significant percentage of the Crosswalk audience.

Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes

  • Strange is told that he's gone beyond medicine and into mania, and that there are other ways to give his life meaning, but he scoffs at the idea. After the Ancient One tells Strange that she knows how to reorient the spirit to heal the body, he tells her there's no such thing as spirit, and she responds that he thinks too little of himself.
  • The Ancient One leads Strange in astral projection, and upon discovering this spiritual realm, Strange becomes suddenly eager to learn more, begging the Ancient One, "Teach me!"
  • The sorcerers say they guard against mystical (as opposed to physical) threats, and they harness energy to cast spells and make magic. The Ancient One tells Mordo that we never lose our demons, but only learn to live above them, and she explains that Mordo's soul is rigid, forged by the fires of his youth.
  • There is discussion of eternal life and the Dark Dimension, and one experience of eternal life is said not to be Paradise, but torment.
  • When Strange explains that he went East after Western medicine failed him, his skeptical listener replies, "So you joined a cult." A character is also said to have sat with gurus and sacred women.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)

  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence 
  • Language/Profanity: Lord's name taken in vain; some foul language; "oh f...".
  • Sexuality/Nudity: Strange asks a colleague if she's sleeping with another doctor; a kiss on the cheek.
  • Violence/Frightening/Intense: Limbs are lopped off; reckless driving followed by a terrible accident; a bloody face, and a body with pins in it; stabbings; a cape attack (you read that right); a character falls through glass; multiple deaths.
  • Drugs/Alcohol: Beer drinking (during a signature Marvel end-credits scene).

The Bottom Line

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe should be pleased with one of the franchise's stronger and most anticipated entries, as will viewers interested in visual flair that elevates yet another origin story beyond boilerplate into one of the more interesting ones.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Christian viewers who are put off by Eastern ideas/religions/philosophies. Even those who acknowledge some form of Christian mysticism may struggle to find common ground with the spiritual world and practices shown here.

Doctor Strange, directed by Scott Derrickson, opened in theaters November 4, 2016; available for home viewing February 28, 2017. It runs 115 minutes and stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams, Benjamin Bratt and Michael Stuhlbarg. Watch the trailer for Doctor Strange here.

Christian Hamaker brings a background in both Religion (M.A., Reformed Theological Seminary) and Film/Popular Culture (B.A., Virginia Tech) to his reviews. He still has a collection of more than 100 laserdiscs, and for DVDs patronizes the local library. Streaming? What is this "streaming" of which you speak? He'll figure it out someday. Until then, his preferred viewing venue is a movie theater. Christian is happily married to Sarah, a parent coach and author of Hired@Home and Ending Sibling Rivalry.

Publication date: November 3, 2016