Doctor Strange Film Review: Marvel Astonishes with a New World of Mind-bending Mysticism

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doctor-strange-bannerAll photos courtesy of Marvel Studios

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand, grow and push the envelope when it comes to adapting stories from their massive collection of source material. With DOCTOR STRANGE, the comic book powerhouse steps into ambitious territory, opening a portal into a whole new world of magic, sorcery, and mysticism that would be elevated to levels of psychedelic proportions with the aid of hallucinogenics. Despite being a visual marvel for stoners and shroom heads, the trippy effects and mind-bending fight scenes are merely window dressing for a refreshing, yet recognizable journey of a superhero that isn’t a household name for non-comic geeks.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a world-famous neurosurgeon. He’s a bit — no — a lot arrogant, but is charismatic and hard working enough not to be a total douche. When he is the victim of a horrible car accident, his hands are rendered useless. Being the resilient and stubborn guy he is, he sets off to the mysterious enclave Kamar-Taj to find a way to gain full use of his hands when Western medicine fails him. Not a believer of chakras and healing of the homeopathic persuasion, Strange becomes more skeptical when he meets Kamar-Taj denizens Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Wong (Benedict Wong), and the head honcho known as The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).

What at first seems like a cult-like place of healing, turns out to be the home base for masters of sorcery who use magic and mysticism to fight against the dark forces destroying reality — which is currently led by a former master-turned-zealot Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen). Once Strange “opens his mind” to this new reality, he dives head first into the multi-dimensional mystical world and quickly takes to the world of astral projection and sorcery — which puts him on the front line of battle with Kaecilius and Dormammu, a massive force from the Dark Dimension, who is hellbent on consuming Earth’s reality.

It’s all stunning, complex, and… weird.  That’s a good thing considering the movie is titled, Doctor Strange.

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Essentially, this movie is Iron Man, but instead of Tony Stark, it’s Stephen Strange. Instead of Pepper Potts, it’s Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) who keeps the hero’s ego in check. Instead of technology taking front and center, it’s the mystic arts that are being used as a tool against the bad guys. And because of all the similarities, Doctor Strange is formulaic — but its recognizable story arc makes it easy to digest for Strange newcomers.  Sure, it’s a template story, but director/writer Scott Derrickson and co-writers Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill tweaked it enough to make it intriguing with character, high stakes, and complex with a set of mind-boggling rules for this magical world — which aren’t as easy to follow as the spells and wand-twirling of Hogwart’s.  The story ushers the audience into a different realm that is necessary to push the MCU into more fantastical settings outside of Earth like Asgard for Thor: Ragnarok (stay after the credits to find out more about this) and wherever they plan on going for the Infinity Wars (Cumberbatch and Wong are confirmed to return for the comic book epic).

After Captain America: Civil War, the MCU needed a reset and Doctor Strange was exactly that. It’s easing us into Phase 3 which will be out of this world — literally. And the MCU is making sure that the audience buys into the new adventure they are about to take us on without making it seem hokey or ridiculous. They did it with Guardians of the Galaxy and they do it effortlessly with Doctor Strange. In this case, Strange represents the audience. As a sure-of-himself skeptic, he has to be sold on all this mysticism mumbo jumbo — just like the audience. And as he goes on his journey, he becomes more and more convinced and eventually becomes completely immersed into the world — just like the audience.

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Visually, the movie is a stunning marvel of WTF moments of kaleidoscopic eye candy and action scenes that are an acid trip that merges an M.C. Escher drawing and the best parts of Inception. Cumberbatch embodies the role of the Sorcerer Supreme as if there were no other person born to play him. Mikkelsen does the appropriate damage in a role that is the latest in the line of disposable Marvel villains while supporting players Ejiofor and Wong add shape and dimension to this world which is surprisingly filled with a lot of jokes that land very well (which we can thank Dan Harmon for).  As for the controversial casting of Swinton as The Ancient One, which is written as an Asian man in the comics, she did her well in the key Yoda-like role. One wouldn’t expect anything less considering she is the Tilda Swinton. But if Marvel was looking to push the envelope a little further, they might have wanted to consider casting an Asian woman as The Ancient One. Imagine the progress in that.

As an origin story, Doctor Strange is comparable to Ant-Man, as it’s a character that it isn’t as well known as Captain America or the Hulk — and it’s a character that resides in a bizarre world. But like a well-oiled machine, Marvel smartly packages it as an electrifying introduction to a different kind of superhero that will leave audiences fascinated and yearning for more. Doctor Strange is a magical thrill ride and a welcomed necessity to the MCU that, as the movie suggests, opens us to a world of possibilities.

TB-TV-Grade-B

Rated:  PG-13
Running time: 115 minutes

Read our film reviews here.

 


Dino watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
Follow Dino on Twitter: @dinoray
Keep up with all of Dino’s reviews and stories here.

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