A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts.
Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams, Benjamin Bratt, Michael Stuhlbarg
Rated: PG-13 (sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence)
By Matt Greene
Marvel’s Doctor Strange is a visual feast of magical fantasy in the vein of Harry Potter & Aladdin. While its tone is in-line with the larger MCU, its style stands-out from its decidedly similar counterparts. With trippy universe traveling and Inception-on-steroids world bending, it’s one of the few superhero entries in recent years whose giant scope is fitting, whose immense danger is understandable, and whose convoluted mythos works. In a make-believe world without boundaries, Doctor Strange runs with gleeful and refreshing abandon.
Plot-wise, it has all the familiar origin-story beats: everyday genius discovers powers, his disbelief eventually gives way to the truth, initially struggles with powers, realizes he has inexplicable skill “inside him”, and then uses his powers for sacrificial good. Its strength, as is the case with most MCU films, is its bright character and small moments of humanity. Strange starts as an intentionally less-charming Tony Stark before becoming a less dense Thor-like hero, surrounded by spiritual gurus, ageless sages, villainous space-jumpers and character-enhanced capes. It would be easy to allow overt piety to overwhelm the screen, but that is sidestepped nicely with great humor that plays with the intersection between normal reality and spiritual reality.
That balance isn’t always struck perfectly, however. Early on, there are too many strange tonal shifts and some pace-halting exposition that get in the way. Even the larger visual greatness is stunted at times in the frantic and hard-to-follow combat scenes. However, it’s still a popcorn-fueled mind-bender that is (at worst) a middle-of-the-road Marvel film, which still puts it way above most blockbusters these days.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
By Cole Schneider
Marvel still has a big problem familiarity problem with their formula. Every climax—especially—is the same as the last, but “Doctor Strange” at least carries that formula well.
It has the titular egotistical hero in the middle: this time Benedict Cumberbatch’s Strange instead of Iron Man or Thor. It has the kinda-sorta love interest: this time Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer instead of Pepper Potts, Peggy Carter, or Jane Foster. It has the sage authority figure: this time Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One (in an example of positive gender-swapping and negative white-washing) instead of Odin or Nick Fury. It has the sidekick character that probably turns into an enemy in a later film: this time Chewitel Ejiofor’s Mordo instead of Rhodey or Bucky. It has the villain of the week featuring a better actor than the character deserves: this time Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius instead of Obadiah, Ivan, Mandarin, Red Skull, Ultron, etc.
Still, “Doctor Strange” takes its place among the series’ best as it plays these familiar parts with a bit more interest. Mikkelsen’s villain, for instance, isn’t hell-bent on taking over the world; rather, he’s justifiably rebelling against the teachings of The Ancient One because of a double-standard in her rule. It’s an interesting, fresh take on the villain motive. Marvel also introduces mysticism into its universe and is all-the-better for it. The exposition here is much more interesting because we are being introduced to whole new dimensions of grandeur and wonder. The real place of separation, though, is in its visuals. “Doctor Strange” is Marvel’s first entry that actually does something formally inventive to tell its story, and that is a breath of fresh air in a stale franchise.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars