Review: Doctor Strange (2016)


The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand its presence ever broader with this latest installment offering up the effects of the worlds of magic and extradimensional beings on Earth as seen through the lens of Benedict Cumberbatch’s arrogant namesake surgeon in Doctor Strange. Check out our thoughts after the jump.

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When the planet is under the threat of destruction by shadowy agencies like HYDRA or corrupt A.I. powerhouses like Ultron, Marvel’s signature heroes, The Avengers, are there to defend the planet. But when the planet is under the threat of annihilation by magical entities or extradimensional Lovecraftian beings, that is when Earth’s sorceror supreme is tasked with the goal of keeping Earth safe from magical destruction. That is the underlying plot of Marvel Studios’ latest film Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelson, Rachel McAdams, and Benedict Wong. Cumberbatch plays the titular character. Dr. Stephen Strange, a brilliant scientist, who is concerned with solving large scale medical issues that will bring him fame and fortune; moreso than using his talent on individual cases. Strange is involved in a horrific car accident that breaks his hands and gives him nerve damage that will end his career. Despite the love and consolation offered by Christine Palmer (McAdams), Strange spends all his remaining money and resources to find a way to cure himself, ultimately learning about a place in Kathmandu, Nepal named Kamar-Taj. Here, Strange learns, someone who had an injury that led to paralysis was magically cured. That someone is The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), alongside her pupil Mordo (Ejiofor) who offers Strange a terrifying and tantalizing peek at a world beyond the physical where magic and inner strength can do anything.

However, the realm of infinite possibilities and magic the Ancient One offers are more than just a way to heal Strange’s body. The Ancient One is tasked with protecting the world from existential threats from other worlds and dimensions and her pupils ultimately becomes masters of the sanctums meant to keep reality in place. One of her former pupils Kaecilius (Mikkelson) has rebelled and is trying to destroy these sanctums to allow his master Dormammu enter this reality from a dark dimension and annhilate life and time as we know it. Strange’s journey in the film is primarily centered on trying to reconcile his short term desire for fame and wealth against that of the greater good.

Much like Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange‘s place in the Marvel cannon of films is opening up the hero vs. villain dynamic on Marvel films to a new sphere; that of magic and extradimensional conceptual beings and worlds. The film succeeds; mostly due to Cumberbatch’s strong performance and the caliber of actors cast in the film. Cumberbatch makes Strange feel like a real flawed person; this may be the most rounded yet flawed character in the MCU since Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. Cumberbatch makes you both empathize with him, yet see when he is foolish. Pairing him up against excellent actors like Ejiofor, Wong, Mikkelson and Swinton makes the movie work because they treat the world they inhabit as a serious one; not one where scenery is chewed.

The effects in the film are also one of the true stars of the film; not since Avatar and later Inception has there been a film more suited to IMAX 3D than Doctor Strange. The reality bending sequences and interpretations of magic in this film are massive and immersive and create a literal world you feel you can reach into. Director Scott Derrickson knocks the films out of the park; alongside a great score by Michael Giacchino. The film was also shot by Ben Davis, the DP who did cinematography for both Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Davis has a keen eye and is adept at working with large scale effects films but finding the human moments in them as well.

Doctor Strange is probably Marvel Studios’ best film since Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guradians of the Galaxy. It creates its own immersive story; but it is one that continues the larger world building of their cinematic universe without it feeling forced like it did in Age of Ultron and Civil War. Definitely one of the year’s best tentpole comic book films.