Doctor Strange (2016)

Directed By: Scott Derrickson

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Scott Adkins, Benjamin Bratt, Tilda Swinton

Genre: Action/Adventure/Science Fiction/Fantasy/Comic Books

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a great neurosurgeon who also happens to be so arrogant, he’s pushed away the people who care about him - including fellow doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). While driving to a speaking event, Strange drives his car too fast and ends up crashing badly. While he survives, the nerve damage to his hands pretty much end his medical career. Learning about a paralyzed man (Benjamin Bratt) who somehow learned to walk through spiritual means, Strange goes to Nepal to seek the same hope. He meets up with The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her loyal disciple, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), to fix the nerve damage. Instead, Strange learns all about mysticism - changing time, bending reality, and conjuring spells in and out of the astral plane. He’s unknowingly thrusted into a serious battle between the light and dark worlds - facing The Ancient One’s former disciple Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who wants to conjure up the demonic Dormammu to take over Earth.

DOCTOR STRANGE is the 14th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, continuing Marvel’s story towards the looming threat of Thanos and INFINITY WAR. Doctor Strange is a character that I knew of and some of his rogues gallery, but not a character I ever read a comic for. I can’t say I was overly excited for this film, considering I pretty much knew nothing about the character - even though I knew he probably held one of the Infinity Stones. So color me surprised when DOCTOR STRANGE ended up being a really fun time, taking a pretty generic origin story and turning it on its head.

The visual effects in DOCTOR STRANGE have to be some of the best I’ve seen on film. Obviously inspired by Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION, the trippy and psychedelic reality bending effects add a lot to the story and the characters involved. The action scenes would be pretty average and generic without the crazy set pieces, where the landscapes constantly evolves and changes into new set pieces within the fighting. The laws of physics have no place in DOCTOR STRANGE, adding to a visually stunning film that keeps you glued to the screen. Scott Derrickson does a great job directing the CGI and handling it well. The opening sequence and that Dormammu time-bending sequence were highlights of the film for me. Really clever stuff.

And while I mentioned that the story was fairly generic, the mystical themes rise it above other superhero film origins. Without the magic stuff, DOCTOR STRANGE would have been a wannabe IRON MAN. Or ANT-MAN. Or countless other superhero films that follow the same exact beats, making them less compelling with each iteration. Yes, we’ve seen the film’s hero go from a arrogant prick to a man who realizes he has more to offer in order to make good on the world. But the use of spiritualism and magic makes it feel a bit fresher, even if the story follows the same template. What also helps is that DOCTOR STRANGE allows our main character to evolve into his own individual character without having to resort to bringing in characters from previous Marvel films. Strange is allowed to grow into his own character without having to rely on recognizable characters, allowing him to carve his own place within this universe. It makes him feel important, as we know he’ll play a massive part in the Infinity War that’s coming up.

I will say that I think the villain issue is becoming a huge problem in these Marvel films. Kaecilius seems to have an interesting arc that’s dying to come out in the narrative, but he’s barely given any screen time. And he’s not given much to do but wave his hands around and open portals, or talk about Dormammu. It’s not much of a role, and he never poses much of a threat. I get that these films are to set up heroes for a greater arc, but you have to give them someone as interesting as they are. Luckily the end credits seem to be setting up something huge for the sequel, so maybe we’ll finally solve this villain deal for once.

The acting is pretty great here. Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect as Stephen Strange, carrying the film strongly on his shoulders with his humor, eagerness, and intelligence. I knew he wouldn’t disappoint. Chiwetel Ejiofor grounds the film as Mordo, bringing a quietness and strength that should lead to interesting things in future installments. Rachel McAdams is always a pleasant surprise, but she’s not given much to do as Christine. She has nice chemistry with Cumberbatch, but not much of a character. Maybe next time. Benedict Wong is great as Wong, playing against type as the stoic librarian. Mads Mikkelsen is great, but not given much as Kaecilius. And Tilda Swinton is fantastic as The Ancient One. I really liked the cast here, even if some needed more to do. But everyone was game and seemed to be having fun, which was great.

DOCTOR STRANGE is a film I wasn’t excited for going in. But after it was done, I wanted to read back issues of the character to learn more about him and his world. Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect as Stephen Strange, as he carries a fairly generic story that’s elevated by a psychedelic and surreal world of mysticism that makes it stand out from other origin stories. The visual effects are top notch, especially during the action sequences. And the actors are game to take part of this magical world. The film still suffers from a villain problem, as Mads Mikkelsen is kind of wasted here. But other than that, DOCTOR STRANGE is one of the stronger films within the MCU.

3.5 Howls Outta 4

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