Screw Dr. James Andrews, I want what Stephen’s having. Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a world-renowned surgeon, one of the best, if not the best the world has to offer in his field. With his supreme skills come a massive ego, one that he has no problems wielding around his fellow doctors, such as on-again, off-again lover Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams).
One day, a vicious car accident leaves Stephen still alive but without functional usage of his moneymaking hands. Rehab doesn’t work, and Stephen is left to find alternate methods to recovery. Traveling East to Nepal, Strange goes in search of “The Ancient One” (Tilda Swinton), an all-powerful sorcerer who can make him better again. As Strange gets better, his mind and world open to dimensions unseen to many, and all of these dimensions aren’t friendly. He has two options: Go back to his old and pretty selfish life, or sacrifice his ego for the betterment and ultimate protection of the world.
How much can really be done with an origins story? Not a ton, but the main goal of one should always be to lay a foundation for a new character, rather than to put said character on a conveyor belt to a shared universe. Doctor Strange and director Scott Derickson (Sinister) do their jobs, as Strange is certainly going to be a man that can add immense depth to the MCU.
There are three certainties in this world. Death, taxes, and Marvel Studios nailing its primary protagonist casting. Once again, the studio seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to getting the right person for the right role. Benedict Cumberbatch is Doctor Strange, and I can’t see anyone else playing this character aside from Edward Norton (probably the facial hair Norton possesses). Stephen Strange himself is an amalgamation of Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne, and a little bit of Thor with his cockiness. Not exactly the freshest of personalities, but Cumberbatch does elevate the standard material, and ends up making Strange an individual one wants to see more of in a solo movie.
Elevating the material can be said for much of this superstar cast. Rachel McAdams is basically Pepper Potts, Jane Foster, and any other love interest previously found in superhero films. But, her chemistry is real with Cumberbatch, and a scene in particular in the first 15 or so minutes is rather moving for a superhero film. In a way, she kind of drives home the character of Strange in this one scene, which is important because Derrickson does rush the life altering moment, as it just feels like it comes too soon.
As The Ancient One, Tilda Swinton and Doctor Strange as a whole received some criticism for whitewashing an Asian character in the comics. Unfortunate it may be, if it is going to be done, do it with one of the more versatile thespians today, which Swinton absolutely is. As great as Cumberbatch is, Chiwetel Ejiofor may be the best character in the feature. Ejofor imbues his mentor character of Mordo with mysteriousness and a rigid sense of ethics. While not a villain in this installment, the next ones will surely set him up as such, and he has the potential to rival Loki as Marvel’s best baddie to date. For this initial outing however, Mads Mikkelsen is rather forgettable playing the antagonist. He’s essentially the Satan to Swinton’s God, rebelling and being cast out and now wanting to throw the world into chaos or whatever. He doesn’t do a bad job, but simply doesn’t stand out.
The Doctor Strange screenplay is functional, not great. Not a huge negative, just what one expects out of an origin story by hitting all of the beats without excelling in any area. If there were but one semi-major oddity, it would be that of the humor, for yours truly at least. A few bits are humorous, trademark Marvel humor. But most are rather forced, not necessarily the delivery but the actual content of the jokes.
Still, it’s hard to pay attention too much to them when the visuals are so captivating and the set pieces so unique. This is the one movie to splurge on and catch in the 3D format (thanks Tom). Doesn’t make up for some of the other shortcomings, but entertain it does in the first five minutes. In a way, this kind of feels like the movie Suicide Squad should have been, aesthetically all of its psychedelic colors and unconventionality.
Doctor Strange is a pretty standard origins films, but with better performances and stellar visuals than most similar fare. To reword a popular Cameo song: He’s strange, and I like it.
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