In theaters November 4 is Marvel’s “Doctor Strange,” a mind-bending epic and the fourteenth installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Doctor Strange” stars Benedict Cumberbatch in the titular role, alongside Tilda Swinton,Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen and Benedict Wong.
The film introduces Stephen Strange as a world-renowned neurosurgeon, as capable as he is cocky. After a brutal accident, Dr. Strange’s ability as a surgeon is compromised and he travels to Kamar-Taj in Nepal in search of an unorthodox treatment. There he encounters The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong), is tutored in the mystic arts and becomes embroiled in a conflict between Kamar-Taj and a former master Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).
“Doctor Strange” excels immediately in its stunning visuals. The film is characterized by unique fight scenes in dynamic environments. Early scenes take place in a city with folding and shifting skyscrapers, and later montages explore other worlds and dimensions that defy description. While not all of the visual effects utilized in the movie are worth their salt, the filmmakers do an excellent job of staging the scenes for the film and not the other way around.
In addition to the excellent graphics, what marks “Doctor Strange” as a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is its artful blending of drama and comedy. The origins of the character in comic books as a 1960’s sorcerer whose powers derive from “opening his mind” are distinctly different from the arcs of other heroes in Marvel’s current movie canon. Rather than falling into the cliches of South Asian mysticism often portrayed in Western film, the inhabitants of the Kamar-Taj have a quickness and edge that keeps the viewer engaged.
Most notable is how the filmmakers have taken threads from several franchises to seamlessly fold “Doctor Strange” into the world. Stephen Strange’s wealth, aptitude and cockiness mirror that of Tony Stark. The shameless wonder of the mystic arts draws on the same otherworldliness seen in “Thor.” And the film’s seemingly miss matched team of protagonists and overall oddity harkens to the MCU’s other odd man out “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
The movie’s major shortcoming is the likability of Stephen Strange. While the audience does come to root for Strange and does see him undergo a clear (if trite) moral evolution, the events of the film are tinged by an underlying bitterness for the main character. His actions and ego in the beginning of the film color the rest of the movie; while he and other characters explicitly state his desire as a surgeon to do good, his motivations just don’t feel terribly genuine until the last moments of the movie.
Blending some of the best elements of its predecessors, “Doctor Strange” is simultaneously fresh and well-worn. Following a string of movies in the MCU that carry a lot of interpersonal baggage, this movie is a welcome foray into untread territory that promises to seep into the upcoming films of the franchise.