Superhero origin stories are usually the best of any comic book franchise, and “Doctor Strange” is another enjoyable introduction to a lesser known character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It seems like every B-list superhero is getting their own movie, and I was apprehensive that this film was just another attempt by Disney to milk another unloved comic for as much of a cash grab as possible. Thankfully this isn’t the case here. “Doctor Strange” works as a movie because of the flawless special effects and the inspired casting of the accomplished Benedict Cumberbatch as the Strange one.
Cumberbatch demonstrates the ideal mix of charismatic swagger and snark, a real smartass with just enough physical buffness to be believable as a mystical superhero. He’s not a muscle-laden knucklehead yet he’s wholly plausible and seems at ease sliding into the floating cape of this strange superhero. I know nothing about the comic book character of Doctor Strange but from the parts of his story that are presented on screen, I think Cumberbatch is the perfect match, and I have high hopes for future films with him in the role.
The film suffers from its paper thin storyline, so don’t go expecting anything thought-provoking or engaging plot-wise. The simple story tells the legend of doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), a surgeon who is no longer able to perform his job after a debilitating accident. Soon he crosses paths with a powerful sorcerer and begins to study the manipulation of the mystical world from the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). That’s the entire plot. Luckily there are some sturdy supporting performances from Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen and Chiwetel Ejiofor (I love the trend of casting accomplished actors in popcorn movies, it gives the film instant credibility and elevates it from being just another notch on the forgettable trash heap).
While there’s not much going on plot-wise, this film’s overwhelming strength lies solely in its impressive visual effects. Calling the CGI effects flawless and magnificent would be a gross understatement. This movie is brimming with visual eye candy (at times it teeters at the border of being a little too overwhelming) that’s spectacular and simply a ton of fun to watch. The film is dizzying, hallucinatory, offbeat and refreshing. It’s one of those rare movies that I wish I had seen in 3D.
“Doctor Strange” may be all about the visuals, but I do hope to see more of his story in future films. Here’s hoping this Marvel character will get a meatier plot the next time around.
Although it’s a welcome respite from the typical Marvel formula film, “Doctor Strange” isn’t quite different enough to be compelling.
Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant surgeon who is also highly egotistical and self-centered. After an auto accident (don’t look at your phones while you’re driving, people!) leaves him injured and his once-reliable hands unsteady, Stephen begins searching far and wide for a cure. His quest takes him to Nepal, where he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who practices an ancient art that draws energy from the multiverse to conjure weapons and shields, and to travel between dimensions. Stephen, a man of science, is initially skeptical of these powers that rely so heavily on the unseen, but quickly becomes a believer and then proficient in the use of these skills.
What’s refreshing about “Doctor Strange” is the character himself. Strange is a highly practical and pragmatic man who believes in evidence and facts, but whose worldview is challenged by The Ancient One, who understands Strange better than he understands himself. To Strange, if it’s not perceptible by man or measurable by machine, it’s not real. But this also doesn’t make a ton of sense when you think about it: Strange clearly lives in a world where the Avengers are real (we see their tower in New York in several shots). If his reality includes a man who turns into a giant green monster when he gets angry and Norse gods from alternate universe, one of whom has attacked New York with alien monsters, why would it be so difficult to accept the multiverse or alternate dimensions? But I digress.
While it’s refreshing to see a Marvel movie that doesn’t rely on a hero with a genetic mutation, a super suit, or biological engineering to beat the bad guy, the differences in “Doctor Strange” are also the source of its key weakness. When the characters travel through alternate “Inception”-like dimensions where they are able to warp objects and fold buildings on top of one another, create chasms, and otherwise defy the laws of physics, the movie loses momentum. When reality isn’t real and there is no sense of space or place, a chase has no meaning. What are the characters running to? What are they running from? While I liked the idea of Strange and the others conjuring weapons or shields to fight the others, the mirror dimension stuff (which seemed like an excuse for the special effects people to show off their skills) really lost me.
Still, the character of Doctor Strange is intriguing enough to warrant further attention and the movie is good enough to mildly recommend.