Walt Disney Pictures 115 Minutes PG-13
Special effects rule this film. Think Inception meets The Matrix meets Marvel. But what’s important, is how Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the other characters use and interact with the powers in spectacular visuals to tell the story.
The mind blowing scenes of skyscrapers folding in on themselves and transforming like huge legos is scintillating. It's like watching a giant M.C. Escher surreal painting come to life. These effects are a nice alternative to the usual array of explosions and fireballs that are the standard fare in superhero battles. This is one movie where the 3-D effects not only work, you'd miss a lot without seeing it with the glasses.
The Marvel Movie Universe is expanding to make room for a new, quirky, entertaining hero based on the comic book character from the 60’s and 70’s. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko based Doctor Strange's appearance on actor Vincent Price; the character even bears the middle name of the late actor. The comic book version of Doctor Strange began in 1963. That’s during the psychedelic drug era. It’s also when there was interest not only in development of Western Science and logic, but Eastern mysticism.
Cumberbatch inhabits neurosurgeon Doctor Strange with much the same ego, swagger and cynical sarcasm as Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool. And he's just as exasperating and entertaining. He plays music trivia in the operating room while performing intricate, delicate procedures. Director Scott Derrickson (Sinister) makes us care about the Doctor before the CGI heavy battles take over. The opening scenes in the operating room give us insight into why the loss of his surgical skill is so huge.
Rachel MacAdams is his college and sometime lover Dr. Christine Palmer. But there’s never enough in Strange’s heart for anyone but himself. That all changes when his hands are reduced to a mangled set of wired flesh after sustaining serious injuries in a horrific car crash while driving distracted. A not too subtle message for people who text and drive.
When surgery and therapy fail, Doctor Strange looks to alternative Eastern therapies to heal so he can get back to performing miraculous surgeries. His relentless search for a cure and a return to the operating room lands him on Tilda Swinton's doorstep in Nepal. Swinton is the bald, stoic, all knowing mystic, The Ancient One. This is a gender switch from the original comic book storyline as an Asian man, but it works. Swinton says they wanted her to be fluid, ageless and pure, but not of any specific religion or cult.
The Ancient One teaches him to surrender to the forces of the spirit-world. He learns to not only bend his mind, but bend time itself. In the process, she persuades him to join her fight against her former disciple, Kaecilius, (Mads Mikkelsen) who has broken away to become the meanest villain with the most bizarre eye makeup in the Marvel universe. Kaecilius is on a mission to gain immortality by turning the planet into an ever-lasting Hell. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo) and Benedict Wong (Wong) become Strange’s mentors and cohorts as they travel across the planet and through time to prevent the transformation. They become more interesting as time goes on.
Doctor Strange is not constructed with mechanical super powers like Iron Man or accidentally infused abilities like Spiderman. His power comes from within himself; mystical and spiritual. He’s more of a sorcerer than a freak which opens new possibilities for threads and storylines with other Marvel heroes, particularly Thor whose power is also other-worldly.
Doctor Strange has one more special tool: his Cloak of Levitation. This red stiff-collared cloth not only helps him fly and protects him in battle, but is infused with it’s own personality and attitude. The Cloak is a lot like a dog that heels, wrapping itself around the Doctor’s neck in a very tender manner. Good for the Doctor to have after being thrown around so violently in battle. Cumberbatch admits the wire and green screen action work is the most he’s done, ever!
In addition to Derrickson’s smart script which is laced with good comebacks and laughs, Michael Giacchino’s musical score adds emotion, tension and context to the visuals. As always, look for the Stan Lee cameo and stick around to the very end of the credits for post clips that clue us in on what’s coming next for the good Doctor. Benedict Cumberbatch has signed on for multiple appearances as Doctor Strange so we’ll be seeing him pop up in other franchises’ story lines as well.
Marvel fans are relishing the arrival of this new entry while new comers might be scratching their heads figuring out the convoluted plot line and time twists. Just relax and let the witty sarcasm, hokey storyline and eye popping special effects roll on. Doctor Strange himself seems overwhelmed when at one point he shakes his head and tells The Ancient One “It doesn’t make sense”. “Not everything does,” she replies, “Not everything has to.” Good advice before you go to see any movie based on a comic book!