Marvel Studios has, for many years now, successfully been entertaining audiences and being a financial box office juggernaut. When a formula works, like Marvel’s does, from a studio standpoint it doesn’t make financially good sense to stray from it. While Guardians of the Galaxy was a refreshing comic stroke of genius outside of the Marvel norm, Doctor Strange is the equivalent of “jumping the shark”. Although when you are dealing with the magical realm, like Strange does, you just may successfully float over that shark and land safely on the other side.
Doctor Stephen Strange is a brilliant Neurosurgeon in New York City with a god complex. Nothing for Strange is impossible and whatever fantastically difficult surgery inflates his ego among his peers is one that he’ll take. Strange is called away from the hospital to accept an award for excellence in his field. During his drive there, Strange is involved in an accident that not only injures him, but takes away the instruments that are so precious to his to him and his profession, his hands.
After a surgery that put many pins into Strange’s hands to repair them and through many sessions of rehab, Strange finds himself at a crossroads. While the physical rehabilitation isn’t working for him, Strange explores new metaphysical and spiritual treatments that lead him to Kathmandu and a place called Kamar-Taj. Kamar-Taj will not only test his will to heal himself, but may just call him to a life that he never knew existed and to face an enemy that maybe undefeatable.
Doctor Strange is a daring attempt to bring the magical realm to the Marvel cinematic universe. Marvel has a Hulk, an Iron Man, and a Spider-Man, but nothing like Doctor Strange has been seen thus far. Doctor Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange. Cumberbatch does a fantastic job conveying where Strange has ended up in his life. Cumberbatch conveys a sense of loss, confusion, madness, and acceptance when confronted with his newfound lot in life. Tilda Swinton also stars as “The Ancient One”, who helps teach Strange about the powers that are within. Swinton does have a one note performance, but it’s fitting here because she portrays an enlightened being. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Mordo, a mentor to Strange and a companion to help him along his way to harness his new powers. Ejiofor is does a good job at being a complement to Strange without overshadowing Cumberbatch’s performance. Mads Mikkelsen plays Kaecilius, the villain of the piece who is calling upon Dormammu, a being from the Dark Dimension that may or may not grant eternal life and be the destructor of Earth. Mikkelsen’s portrayal as Kaecilius, just like most Marvel villains is underwhelming and just doesn’t fill the screen with dread. When the story is set up for Mikkelsen’s character to be the forerunner to the real threat, it’s hard for his character to be a force throughout.
One of Doctor Strange’s greatest strengths is its ability to take chances. Strange is filled with visuals not seen in a Marvel film before. Magic effects bent New York into the visuals of a kaleidoscope. Fights that take place out of body and in a spiritual realm while Strange’s body lies on a gurney. Finally, an inventive and impressive climax that sees Hong Kong transcend space and time and sees Strange resolve the threat through mind and magic and not through might.
Doctor Strange is a respite from the fists and fury of most Marvel films thus far. Strange is such a good time at the movies that director Scott Derrickson should be commended for successfully setting his film apart from his peers. The content here feels so fresh that it could upend the Marvel cinematic universe in diverse new ways. Doctor Strange’s weakness are few. It can be said that the film felt it was moving in fast forward with the story that was presented, but that actually worked in its favor as to not have you focus on too many of its faults. Doctor Strange is a smorgasbord of magical goodness that should not be missed. If you haven’t been on board for the Marvel movies before, let Strange put you under his spell.
OVERALL: 3.5/5 Stars
–originally published in MAUIWatch