Movie Review: “Doctor Strange” – MARVELous Magic

Written by Jesse Gelinas November 10, 2016

Out of body experience in Doctor StrangeI know quite a few of you are suffering from the so-called “Marvel-fatigue” at this point. With three or four superhero flicks planned each year for the next half-century or so, it is getting a little hard to stay excited for a franchise that has to dig deep to keep things fresh. So, did deep, is just what Marvel Studios is doing. They’re delving into the weird, the “out there,” jumping head first into magic, existentialist themes, and the multiverse. Doctor Strange has opened, and not only is it great, but it’s different for  the first time in the MCU’s eight year history.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a world renowned surgeon, until a fateful accident leads to nerve damage in his hands, and leaves him unable to continue his work. Desperate to be the best again, his search leads him to Kamar-Taj, in Nepal. There, he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who teaches him to travel the astral plane, summon powerful magic from the multiverse, and manipulate reality itself. Intent on healing his hands and reclaiming his livelihood, Doctor Strange soon learns he’ll have to use his powers for more crucial purposes, such as defending the world from mystical threats, including the evil sorcerer, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).

“I went to Kathmandu, and I learned to tap into powers I never even knew existed.”

For the most part, the Marvel formula is here in full. Doctor Strange is your average rich playboy genius who, through no faults of his own, finds himself in a completely preventable accident that changes ends up changing his outlook on life. This leads him on a journey that ends with him gaining immense powers and having to save the world from destruction. It’s all there, all the classics. The difference is in the details and the charm. Doctor Strange is filled with great performances, truly amazing visual effects, an awesome score, and a surprisingly clever climax.

Benedict Cumberbatch casts time spells as Doctor Strange

Benedict “Sherlock Holmes all the time” Cumberbatch is his usual charmingly smarmy self as Doctor Strange. It’s a character suited to his strengths as he dismisses those around him with intellectual. He’s not the sarcastic giant RDJ’s Tony Stark is, but it’s a more fitting persona for the role. His American accent can be a little dicey sometimes, harkening back to High Laurie’s House (almost identical at times if you close your eyes), but the performance is energetic and engaging throughout. Strange makes a welcome and refreshing addition to the MCU ‘s ever-growing team of larger-than-life heroes.

The rest of the cast is solid if nothing else. Swinton is always terrific, and takes on another eccentric role which she has always excelled in. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a turn as a fellow sorcerer, Mordo, who comic fans will know all too well. As is usual with MCU’s entry films, the villain is a bit of a letdown. Mikkelsen does what he can with what he’s given, but Kaecilius was never going to be an interesting or memorable villain. Just like Guardian of the Galaxy‘s Ronin, he acts a stepping stone toward a bigger baddie, and remains underwhelming.

“Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all.”

Doctor Strange‘s greatest strength lies in its incredible visuals. Cities folding in on themselves isn’t something we haven’t seen before (thanks, Inception), but the film ups the ante as we watch cities shift, reshape, crumble, and rebuild multiple times throughout. Magical portals move the action from London streets to New York alleys, to barren desert and back effortlessly. It reminded me of Thor: The Dark World‘s dimension jumping, but definitely utilized more seamlessly. Michael Giacchino’s score fits the mystical, almost whimsical tone of the film, and compliments the terrific visuals.

Doctor Strange

In a refreshing change of pace from other Marvel-fare, Doctor Strange does not devolve into a twenty-minute fistfight for the climax. While the good doctor does combat various foes with his newfound powers (and kickass Cloak), the climax of the film swerves in just the right way, into a proper battle of wits and will. That alone puts it a cut above a few of its predecessors.

“Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain.”

Overall, Doctor Strange is hardly revolutionary for comic films, or even the MCU specifically. But it is a nice departure into the more otherworldly weirdness the comic book realm has to offer offer. There’s even a casual reference to the Living Tribunal. It’s a welcome addition to the Marvel franchise, its quality slipping it somewhere between Ant Man and Captain America: Civil War. Cumberbatch certainly brings his trademark class to the MCU, and will be most useful when the Infinity War comes to Earth.

My Rating: 8/10

Poster for Doctor Strange

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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