Movie Review – “Doctor Strange”

“What remains to be seen is what effect “Doctor Strange” will ultimately have on the MCU as a whole.” 

– George Allison for REEL


By Guest Film Critic George Allison

It’s fair to say that Marvel Studios hasn’t gotten this weird since Chris Pratt and friends were dancing around to the Awesome Mix Vol. 1 in “Guardians of The Galaxy“.  And it hasn’t gotten this weird in this way ever. Director Scott Derrickson (“The Exorcism Of Emily Rose“) and cinematographer Ben Davis (“Avengers: Age of Ultron“) have had a blast crafting this action-packed mind-bender, shifting and reshuffling city landscapes, “Inception” style, and playing with other dimensions in a way not even the superhero genre has tried before.

Stepping into the MCU for the first time, Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game“) takes on the role of Dr. Stephen Strange, a brilliant neurosurgeon living in New York. Strange is presented as something like the James Bond of medicine, impossibly smooth and competent before winding up in a horrible car accident that renders his hands ineffective due to nerve damage. After failing to find a cure in Western medicine, Strange journeys to Nepal to seek out a mysterious spiritual healer named The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). At her sanctuary, he discovers a small group of people practicing mystical arts, claiming to hold the power to defend Earth from forces of other dimensions. Initially seeking to use his mind to heal his hands, Strange becomes entangled in The Ancient One’s battle with Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former pupil seeking to unleash terrors on the world.

Marvel has done a nice job of speckling its superhero projects with A-list actors, but here they seem to have gone above and beyond. In addition to Cumberbatch, Swinton and Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams and Chiwetel Ejiofor are in play as well as Christine (a doctor and love interest of Strange’s) and Mordo (another pupil of The Ancient One’s) respectively. The focus, wisely, is kept on Cumberbatch. As stated in this review, Cumberbatch’s performance “makes the movie zing.” This is about as dry and gritty as we’ve seen Cumberbatch, and it’s a refreshing departure from the general weirdness and eccentricity that made him popular. He plays somewhat like a combination between Daniel Craig’s James Bond and Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man, with a bit of Dr. House sprinkled on top.

Through that persona, Strange becomes an almost bizarrely believable centerpiece in a wholly absurd film. This movie asks us to take leaps arguably more ridiculous even than the ones in “Thor”, which involved gods. Here, we’re to believe that scripture and meditation can give humans the tools to harness energy from other dimensions, create teleportation portals, and wage war with mystical underworlds. Frankly, it “should” be a little bit too much, but because Strange is so grounded, the whole thing works as a self-aware, tongue-in-cheek effort that nonetheless thrills like a true sci-fi epic.

The likes of Iron Man and the other Avengers haven’t just made countless millions at the box office—they’ve also become the faces of an entertainment empire that stretches well beyond the big screen. They inspire Halloween costume, artwork, toys, memorabilia, and even other forms of interactive entertainment. This site posting a general overview of casino gaming content online, points to a collection of popular online slots that now includes multiple Avengers- and Iron Man-themed games. That means that in addition to standard mobile and console games, even casino slots take advantage of Marvel’s best and most prolific heroes.

So does Strange join that list now? It’s not necessarily about whether children will dress up as him for Halloween in 2017, or whether he’ll pop up in a new online game. Rather, it’s just about how far this film will launch his solo “career” in Marvel. It was clear in the hidden credits scenes that Marvel is planning on doing more with Strange, but we’ll have to see if that means simply rolling him into the ensemble films or giving him a true series of his own.

The way that this movie is presented—in mirror dimensions and the like—it would seem Marvel has a unique opportunity to do the latter. This is one area of the MCU that can reasonably exist alongside ensemble efforts, rather than merely leading up to them. Whatever the case, it was an enjoyable first romp with a unique new character.

Grade: A

“Doctor Strange” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence).  Its running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes.

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