If Marvel was ever going to bomb, it would be with “Dr. Strange.” Characters like Spider Man or Captain America crept into the public consciousness decades ago, while Dr. Strange remained a cult-like hero on the fringe of the superhero universe. Just like “Ant Man”, a movie about such an obscure, odd hero is a risk.
Well, Marvel Studios and Dr. Strange fans need not fret. This smartly written, impeccably cast, and visually stunning movie not only feeds the Marvel Cinematic Universe geek a hearty meal, it works on its own as a stand alone piece on the level of the original “Iron Man.”
Benedict Cumberbatch is Dr. Stephen Strange, an New York neurosurgeon with a photographic memory and master of the super power that most humans call “arrogance.” We are introduced to him as he embarrasses a fellow surgeon (Michael Stuhlbarg, wearing an ill fitting toupee) while saving the patient of a former flame, Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams).
You know there’s going to be trouble the second that Dr. Strange peels out of the garage in his Lamborghini and drives down a windy road while aggressively passing every vehicle in sight. His toy car spins off the road and the vicious accident leaves him with severe nerve damage that ends his surgical career.
After exhausting his riches, Dr. Strange is turned on to a place in Kathmandu that can allegedly heal his body by healing his mind. Upon arriving, he is met by Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the right hand man to The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). After some initial hilarious skepticism, Strange fully immerses himself in this world of magic and spells, quickly becoming a master.
It turns out that The Ancient One has a problem with a former disciple, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson), who wants to unleash an ancient, otherworldly power onto Earth. Dr. Strange finds himself leading the charge against Kaecilius, using his newly acquired powers over space and time to fight with mind-bending, gorgeous CGI.
The screenplay is as far out as the kaleidoscope-like CGI. Director Scott Derrickson, working with a script he co-wrote with Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill, deftly manages a story whose main character is a jerk. Most Marvel flicks pit good versus evil, which “Dr. Strange” does, but with an added layer of personal growth and introspection. There are legitimate life lessons discussed here about fear of failure and serving others instead of yourself, which hit home with everyone and not only people with capes that help them fly.
There was some nerd beef about Tilda Swinton being cast as The Ancient One. After the performance she puts on screen, it’s time to squash those ridiculous beefs. Swinton is flawless. She’s charming, mysterious, and when it’s time to fight, she’s as tough as nails. This role required an actor that can command an audience and Swinton does it with ease.
Other actors do well with little, such as Rachel McAdams, but the after credits scene shows that Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Baron Mordo will be much different in future “Dr. Strange” adventures. His tale is yet to come and Derrickson sets up his transformation perfectly.
While Derrickson deserves a lion’s share of credit for making “Dr. Strange” as fantastic as it is, the entire movie and potential franchise falls on Benedict Cumberbatch’s shoulders. Not since Robert Downey Jr. has an actor encapsulated a comic book character like Cumberbatch has. In mere minutes, an audience knows who this guy is and what he’s all about.
Cumberbatch growls and snipes at everyone, even those that are clearly more powerful than he is. His one liners are soon to be legendary and the sheer volume of quotable dialogue he masterfully delivers ups the stakes for any movie trying to launch a comic book movie franchise.
In short, there’s a reason why Marvel wouldn’t move on the “Dr. Strange” movie without Cumberbatch and it’s plain to see how right their hesitation was.
Water is wet. The Sun rises in the East. Marvel Studios has another critical and box office blockbuster on their hands. “Dr. Strange” is the trippiest super hero movie ever and its effects make “The Matrix” look like kid’s games. There’s even a little slice of “Astronomy Domine” by Pink Floyd in the movie. Far out indeed, man.