Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Benedict Wong
Benedict Cumberbatch is no stranger at playing characters with super egos as that is how he interprets Sherlock Holmes. He brings a similar quality to Doctor Stephen Strange. He’s a neurosurgeon in the top of his field. He’s massively rich, a music savant, and probably smarter than his own good allows. His colleague Dr. Christine Palmer (McAdams) happens to be a former flame, and there is still a spark between them. On a stormy night he cruises along a curvy road headed to dinner with the elite where he is to make a presentation. He gets a work call about a potential procedure with accompanying scans to view on his phone. It’s that split second he took his eyes off the road that forever changed his life. I hope all the teen drivers out there are paying attention. His loses control and his precious sports car veers off the cliff. The horrendous accident results in massive surgeries on his arms and hands rendering him unable to work. That is his whole life and now he’s lost it.
When he comes to the realization that no other experimental surgeries will fix the nerves in his hands, he heads to Nepal to seek out a mystic healer who has been known to work miracles. There he meets the Ancient One (Swinton) who opens his mind to the concept of reorienting our spirit to better heal our body. He adapts to the practice at lightning speed as he harnesses energy to cast spells and magic. What he doesn’t know until it’s too late is that the Ancient One has chosen him to go after Kaecilius (Mikkelson), a former master who has now switched to the dark side. Any further explanation of this rabbit hole would over complicate things.
I went into Doctor Strange without any knowledge about the comics. Then again, I basically go into every Marvel movie like that when they start introducing a new character. Marvel Studios has anchored their films with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and the rest of the Avengers, and now they’re breaking into their deeper cuts with stories and characters that may be new for many people. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, we’re reaching further into the obscure. Strange can be viewed without any previous knowledge of the Marvel Universe, as there are no direct tie-ins to other characters or story lines. There’s no mention of S.H.I.E.L.D, Hydra, Loki, or any member of the Stark family. Marvel knew that this film wouldn’t work early on in their foray into big screen adventures as you have to be willing to go on a very “experimental” type of journey with these characters. They trust that if you enjoyed a wise-cracking raccoon and a talking tree in Guardians, you can settle in for the mystic arts and viewpoints presented here.
One thing you’ll notice right away is that it stands apart from many of their other films in its approach all the while keeping it on brand for Marvel. It’s very sci-fi and fantasy based with an Inception meets Harry Potter tone. I had feared it would follow the typical origins type story about some arrogant man getting used to a new suit and powers thanks to advancements in technology. Okay, so maybe that premise is here but only to an extent. There are no mad scientists or bugs. It fully acknowledges that it doesn’t try to live in the reality of present day. There’s a paradox at hand as it tackles a variety of philosophical questions about how we see life, ancient healing, surrendering your ego, and the consequences of trying to break the natural order but it throws in opening time portals, shifting dimensions, and Doctor Strange’s new magical cloak. It’s also worth noting that it appears to be one of the most special effects heavy Marvel films due to how the imagery constantly bends and manipulates on itself. It’s a bizarre mix of colors and shapes as if you were looking into a kaleidoscope. Don’t worry, you shouldn’t get sick with the 3D but it provides a drug trip for the eyes.
Like the others in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, casting is spot on. Benedict Cumberbatch wears the surgical gloves and cape with ease making him feel perfectly in tune with the character. It’s fun to see him as this egocentric fellow and the humor that comes from him exploring this new world. Only ardent readers of the comics will know how well he fits that version of the character. Having Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer, Michael Clayton) as the Ancient One is a risky casting choice due to the way the character is written in the comics, but Swinton handles it the only way she knows how to by bringing her quintessential avant-garde style to the Ancient One. A big blockbuster franchise doesn’t seem like the kind of project she would go for, but I’m ecstatic she went for it. She’s often accompanied by Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) as Mordo. He’s one of her students learning the mystic arts and feels a bit in competition when Strange starts to excel at a faster pace. I’ve been a big fan of Rachel McAdams for years, and she’s another natural fit as Doctor Strange’s former love who finds herself thrust in this new idea of portals and dimensions. What would a Marvel movie be without its token villain? That belongs to resident antagonist Mads Mikkelson who has previously ruffled feathers as the bad guy in Casino Royale and the television version of Hannibal.
Doctor Strange follows in the line of having a relatively unknown director in charge. Scott Derrickson primarily has a horror background with the likes of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister, and Deliver Us from Evil. This is by far his biggest project, and he does a fine job of keeping Doctor Strange fun and exciting even if it’s a little bit “out there”. He has aptly brought forth the Marvel sense of humor that reminds us why these movies set themselves a part from the DC Comics movies. Many Marvel movies leave me wanting more. Not necessarily from that movie I came out of, but knowing that they’ve set up a great foundation and I’m looking forward to what’s going to come next. Mr. Cumberbatch will likely appear in the next Thor film and Avengers: Infinity War. Don’t get up too soon once the credits start as there are two post-credit sequences.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Probably not for a Marvel newbie, but it will surely please the fans.
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS