Review: Doctor Strange – Marvelous magic and mayhem

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Doctor StrangeWow! Fourteen flicks into their film universe and Marvel Studios is still delivering top notch cinematic entertainment; bringing their beloved characters to life on the big screen in a wonderful way that I, as a life-long fan of the comic-book source material, never thought possible. Their newest film, Doctor Strange, certainly has that Marvel magic (yeah, I know) and holds its own up against most of the titles in the studio’s catalog.

With Disney now owning Marvel Studios, it’s easy to imagine that Uncle Walt’s 1940 film Fantasia (specifically The Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment) held sway over the Doctor Strange production, and rumor has it that cinematographer Ben Davis was inspired by Mickey Mouse’s wildest adventure; but the biggest influence on this film’s psychedelic look and feel should be credited to Strange’s original illustrator and (let’s face it) author, Steve Ditko (sorry, Uncle Stan.)

If you are not already familiar with Dr. Stephen Strange (played brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch – despite his mediocre American accent), he is a world renowned neurosurgeon whose life relies on his talented fingers. He’s also an arrogant, self-centered jerk who, through a cruel twist of fate, has a car accident that destroys his hands (but not his attitude.)

Desperate to find a cure, Strange travels to Nepal and searches for the legendary Kamar-Taj, where he believes there may be some mystical remedy for his ailment. After finding the location a mysterious monk called The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) reluctantly takes the doctor under her wing and begins teaching him the mystic arts.

Being of great intelligence and having a photographic memory, Strange quickly learns the ways of a sorcerer; and The Ancient One, together with one of her more astute instructors, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), reveals that her students are committed to protecting the Earth from evil forces in alternate dimensions that seek do it harm.

Doctor StrangeMads Mikkelsen, from the Hannibal TV series, plays the heavy here, called Kaecilius; who, with his crew of zealots, attempt to deliver our planet to the dread Dormammu (also played by Cumberbatch in a facial motion capture performance), who lords over the dark dimensions. Magical mayhem ensues.

The film also stars Rachel McAdams as Strange’s surgical cohort, Christine Palmer (see Marvel’s Night Nurse comics); Benedict Wong as Strange’s would be sidekick, also called Wong; and Benjamin Bratt as a fully recovered paraplegic who directs the doctor to Nepal. All the performances here are very good.

Writer/Director Scott Derrickson brings the insane worlds and dimensions of the Doctor Strange comics to full realization in this film, which is visually incredible. He does owe a bit of a debt to 2010’s Inception, with its folding cityscapes and dream sequences – and he goes a little overboard with that gimmick in one overlong sequence – but most of the visuals in this movie are a head-trip on par with anything from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

There is a basket full of Easter eggs for fans of the comics and many of Strange’s mystic accessories are in play. The Cloak of Levitation is particularly awesome and, surprisingly, for me, it is given an endearing and playful personality that provides much of the movie’s comedic relief.

Despite the very minor aforementioned complaint, Doctor Strange is yet another Marvel masterpiece. It’s a great origin story and introduction to one of the comic universe’s most intriguing characters. I can’t wait for the next one. Grade: 8.5/10

NOTE: Yes, there are two post-credit sequences; and the first one is absolutely worth the wait.

Photos © 2016 MARVEL

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.