Enter the Mystical Realm With Doctor Strange
November 14, 2016
Doctor Strange is something of a contradiction. Although it follows the time-worn outlines of nearly every superhero origin story, the film also manages to breathe new life into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, introducing audiences to a realm brimming with possibility.
The film tracks Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a brilliant yet arrogant brain surgeon. Following a near-fatal car accident that leaves his hands mangled beyond repair, Strange pours his money into procedure after procedure, striving to recapture the fame and success of his career. However, he is ultimately forced to follow another path, embarking on a journey to Kamar-Taj, a temple of sorts where he is told that there is a spiritual avenue to the restoration of his life.
There, he finds a sect of sorcerers headed by a woman known only as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). After the mystics reveal their ways to Strange, his skepticism quickly dissipates, joining their ranks as a student though one clearly bound for greatness.
Yes, we’ve seen this all before: the cocky genius who rises above his past after a life-altering experience, finding power in a place he never expected it. Yet Doctor Strange somehow remains fresh, the film’s launch of the MCU’s mystical realm invigorating, laying the foundation for a domain far more intriguing than our own.
Much of this is due to the truly breathtaking effects work on display throughout. From spells that seem to spark in the air to skyscrapers revolving in and out of each other, they’re a sight to behold from scene one (a gripping set piece set on and around those buildings) to the expertly staged finale.
Credit is also owed to the cast, each of them uniformly selling the utter silliness of their surroundings while also wringing out surprising depth. Cumberbatch is perfectly cast as Strange, as he’s not only a dead ringer for the comic character but also full of the brash, intelligent charisma necessary for the role. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, and Rachel McAdams also excel as a pair of sorcerers and a former love of Strange’s, Ejiofor’s Mordo a noble but narrow-minded warrior and Wong’s Wong (no, that isn’t a typo) a simple librarian who delivers able comedic relief.
However, the standout is Swinton, delivering one of the best performances in any comic book film. The Oscar-winning actress not only compels in her limited time in action but is also utterly captivating in the film’s more dramatic scenes. One moment in particular allows Swinton to do what she does best, stripping her character’s ethereal presence for a split second and revealing her humanity.
Unfortunately, Doctor Strange does fail to treat one of the Marvel series’ gravest illnesses: its villains. While acclaimed Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen is fantastic as Kaecilius, a former acolyte of the Ancient One’s who began to accept power from the Dark Dimension, the character is woefully underserved, given little to nothing to differentiate himself from the dozen or so baddies this franchise has already churned out.
Though its plot is disappointingly familiar, Doctor Strange is a refreshing film, one that not only cures many of the Marvel films issues but by exploring the stranger side of the series’ universe, establishes a visually arresting world of endless potential as well.