Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Written by: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, Steve Ditko (Characters)
Studio: Marvel Studios
Run Time: 115 Minutes
**POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD**
The casting of Benedict Cumberbatch was a brilliant stroke for Marvel’s latest comic book adaptation, Doctor Strange. In fact, this may be one of the finest casts for a Marvel Movie to date. Most of the principle actors have either won an Academy Award or been nominated for one. In short, this is an A-list cast for what many fans may consider a B-list character. Dr. Stephen Strange has been in the Marvel Universe (the comic) for a long time. However, his popularity has never been that of Spider-Man, the Hulk, or Captain America. So with no real conception of who should play the part or the need for a stringent telling of his origin, I was ready for what Marvel delivers, a good time.
I got exactly that, a good time. However, I felt that this origin story was really nothing new. In fact, when I left the theater, I was reminded of another superhero film where I had a terrible time, but the origin was practically the same. It was 2011’s Green Lantern. In no way am I saying that Doctor Strange is the trainwreck that Ryan Reynolds jabbed at in his follow up superhero film, Deadpool. In fact, Scott Derrickson (director/ co-writer) and Jon Spaihts (co-writer) got everything right in the film. It’s only that we have seen the whole origin story before. Sadly, we will see it again with the introduction of each new superhero film.
Dr. Stephen Strange is a brilliant and arrogant surgeon who, after a horrible accident which impedes him from using his hands to operate, seeks non-western medicine for a cure. His quest (realistically done) takes him to Katmandu where he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). The Ancient One is no mere healer, she is the Sorceress Supreme and the wielder of great magic. Strange has a spiritual awakening upon their meeting and wants to learn more about the other worlds and realms she speaks of. She reluctantly accepts Strange as one of her pupils, despite him being arrogant and selfish. Strange’s brilliant mind and thirst for knowledge make him an exceptional student, but he lacks the inner strength to see past his disability. With physical training by Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and “sink or swim” lessons from The Ancient One, Strange becomes part of the order.
As it is with all origin stories, the more our hero accepts the new world that he is in, the more layers peel back. In the beginning of the film, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), is seen as the bad guy who steals a page from a sacred book in The Ancient One’s library. We learn that Kaecilius is seeking to bring Dormammu, an even bigger and more vile bad guy, from another dimension. Again, this is really nothing new just as we know there will be another film. This means we can’t exhaust the main Doctor Strange villain (Dormammu) from the comic in the first film, he has to be in the sequel. What makes this origin story stand out is that the villains in the film are actually justified in their actions. Reasons, that I won’t spoil here, motivate them to see how they were wronged and that there may be another way to wield the power they each possess. The other change in this origin tale is that our hero actually deals with the little baddie (Kaecilius), by taking on the bigger baddie (Dormammu) to save the world/ existence. This was a welcome change and the defining factor that separates it from many other films in the genre.
So why isn’t this a home-run, then? To use another a baseball term, Doctor Strange looks and feels like a stand-up double, which is far better than the likes of Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Captain America. This film has an uneven balance between its heavy visual effects, which are spectacular, and its philosophical mantra about shaping your own reality by being the person you should be, rather than the person you are. I just felt fatigued by the end, because of the magical escapes and action scenes and found it difficult to hold the lessons Doctor Strange had learned to heart. This may not be for everybody, but it is what I want out of a superhero film.
There is a lot of good step-up here for the character and that may be all that really matters. Already, the character has been announced for the Avengers: Infinity War (arriving May 4, 2018). Our villains have been established and, as I mentioned before, their motives feel justified. All in all, you will have a good time at Doctor Strange. I highly recommend seeing it in IMAX 3D. When it’s over though, you’ll be more interested in what Marvel Movie he will be appearing in next. You won’t find yourself back in line for another visit with the Doctor.
Bob’s Top 5 Marvel Movies*:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: Civil War
Guardians of the Galaxy