Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a cocksure neurosurgeon with the mind of a savant, becomes victim to a (rather excessive) car wreck. His hands smashed through the windshield and succumbing to massive nerve damage, he may never practice surgery again. Wonderful parallel shots show his fall from grace in a shot structure that seems almost too elegant for a Marvel film.
When a physical recovery becomes impossible for him, Strange seeks a spiritual one instead. What he finds is…magic!
And, thus, we have a Marvel movie.
Doctor Strange is Marvel on a new level. Some of the best Marvel films are. Captain America: Winter Soldier was akin to an espionage thriller. This year’s smashing success Deadpool is a crass animal comedy. Doctor Strange is a cerebral fantasy that takes its action choreography, at times, from kung fu cinema tradition.
Whatever you call it, the film is visually appealing. It is not merely the action spectacle of, say, an Iron Man film. It is, beyond that, a fractal-conjuring hallucinogenic neonscape. True, much of the effects work is heavily Inception-inspired, but it takes bending realities to a new, liquidly decadent level.
The story of Strange is a basic redemption-from-the-ego story with Mads Mikkelsen thrown in as a stoic, ne’er-do-well sorcerer. This is to say, it is about what one would expect from a Marvel origin story: our hero must learn to change in order to protect the greater good as a known-name-actor villain edges toward world destruction.
Based on the names alone, this may be the best ensemble of actors Marvel has seen in a single-hero film. Cumberbatch holds his solo film up well, although his humor attempts are questionable. Tilda Swinton and Chiwetal Ejiofor round out the supporting roles nicely.
Rachel McAdams and Mikkelsen are good to see as well, although they are underutilized. Mikkelsen’s villain is neither subtle nor over-the-top, both of which he can do masterfully and either of which would have made Kaecilius an interesting character.
In the end, Doctor Strange is a welcome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is hard to imagine the character and his lofty mythos fitting in adequately to one of Marvel’s larger ensemble pieces a la Infinity War, but we shall see how that turns out. Ambitious special effects and previously unseen (on the big screen, that is) superhero subject matter make the film a fresh take on the behemoth genre.
Doctor Strange: B+
It would not be a stretch to call this Iron Man meets Inception, only dreams are replaced here with the multiverse. I don’t think this comparison gives the film credit as its own entity. It blends a lot of what has already been seen in Hollywood before, but it does so in an individually appealing way. Saying that the film is riding on the coattails of Inception would be too limiting a statement, I think.
It is also interesting to see the success of this film at the hands of director Scott Derrickson. The writer-director is known for horror (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose), and yet he brings something fantastical to this film—a very different visual tone for the director. Props to Derrickson, for one.
But also I think it is important to note how Marvel cherry picks directors from various genres. It has worked with Derrickson in this case, in my opinion. Next up is Thor: Ragnorak, where we will have to see how New Zealand director Taika Waititi (known for his exceptional comedies) fares in the MCU.
As always, thanks for reading!
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)