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Marvel Studios continues to surprise and delight with the newest entry into its unprecedented Cinematic Universe, DOCTOR STRANGE. Based on the lesser known hero who originated with Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s comics, this is an origin story that adds Stephen Strange to the pantheon of heroes protecting Earth from God knows what.
I had concerns while settling into my seat. I feel like I’ve now seen about a thousand super hero origin stories, and while Marvel Studios has yet to let me down, I had doubts. How can they make this feel fresh on film #14?
Director and co-writer Scott Derrickson does it. The film is relentlessly weird, rarely pausing to explain the trippy visuals – rather, you learn what you’re looking at as Strange does. This means there are several sequences that push the boundaries of VFX and since you can’t explain what you’re looking at, you are put in the same position as the film’s hero – wonderment. The intricacy of the effects here make INCEPTION look like a B-movie, and the film is definitely best experienced in digital 3D. Be warned – if you’re prone to motion sickness, the 3D presentation may not agree with you.
The story is simple enough. After an injury leaves him hopeless, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) journeys to Nepal in hopes of obtaining miraculous healing. There he finds the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who trains him in the ancient mystical arts. Soon he is caught in the crossfire of a raging zealot (Mads Mikkelsen) bent on total destruction, and before he is ready, Strange is thrust into an epic battle for humanity.
Benedict Cumberbatch (SHERLOCK, THE IMITATION GAME) scores as Strange. His arrogance, desperation and fantastic American accent bring the sorcerer to three dimensional life. His pain is palpable, and if this movie doesn’t convince you to not text and drive, you’re hopeless.
Tilda Swinton (THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE) is perfection as the Ancient One. Her casting was controversial, as the original character was an elderly Asian man. The character was changed for the film to be a Celtic sorceress who holds secrets of her own, and Swinton is funny, engaging and fittingly creepy as the Sorcerer Supreme.
Rachel McAdams (MEAN GIRLS, THE NOTEBOOK) plays Strange’s on-again-off-again love interest, Christine Palmer. While her character doesn’t really exist in the comics, McAdams’ presence grounds the story in reality despite the ludicrous off-the-wall magic surrounding her. Benedict Wong (THE MARTIAN) provides comic relief as combination librarian/bad-ass Wong, and Mads Mikkelsen (HANNIBAL) adds more depth to his villainous turn than most Marvel bad guys, who tend to be on the forgettable side. Chiwetel Ejiofor (TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE) is unpredictable and welcome as the overly righteous Mordo.
It’s another home run for Marvel Studios, and DOCTOR STRANGE continues to prove there’s life after Iron Man for the Cinematic Universe. As always, don’t leave when the film is over, as there are two scenes during and after the credits that provide clues to future Marvel films. Dr. Strange will return in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR as well as his own sequel down the line.
Like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, DOCTOR STRANGE takes a comic book second stringer and makes him a headliner. Open a portal to your nearest theater November 4th to catch him in action.