Doctor Strange is the latest Marvel Studios movie. While a self-contained origin story, it offers a new look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Furthermore, the film examines how not everything needs to make sense.
Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a gifted neurosurgeon with a great memory. However, he also display arrogance and an inflated view of his own talent. This causes him to upstage fellow doctors, much to the chagrin of his colleague and former lover Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams).
While driving to a public event, Stephen ends up in a car wreck and suffers severe nerve damage to his hands. He tries various experimental surgeries without success, and it is clear that his medical career is over. Christine tries to get him to move on, but he rejects her efforts of help.
Desperate to recover, Stephen seeks out a man who recovered from paraplegia and learns about a place called Kamar-Taj. Upon traveling to Nepal, he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and learns the truth about her abilities. He wants to learn the mystic arts, but she rejects him after sensing his arrogant nature. Ultimately, it is Strange’s determination that prompts her to take him on as a student.
Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) worries about Strange, feeling he is not worthy to be a sorcerer. He also fears Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former ally engaging in the dark arts. Kaecilius and his band of zealots steal a spell belonging to the Ancient One and seek to obtain eternal life.
When Kaecilius attacks, Strange and Mordo have to work together to save the New York, London and Hong Kong Sanctums. Kaecilius wants to summon Dormammu from the Dark Dimension and take over Earth. Both Strange and Mordo discover the truth about the Ancient One, which has dire consequences for them. Strange must decide whether to return to his former life or become something greater.
Benedict Cumberbatch is compelling as Stephen Strange, and it feels as if he has just stepped out of the comic books. The actor is able to display intelligence, humor, and arrogance in depicting Strange’s character growth. As the film progresses, he goes from selfishness to becoming selfless. Some might compare him to a light version of Tony Stark, but Cumberbatch succeeds in making the part his own.
Ejiofor does a great job as Baron Mordo. He provides a stoic, mature counterpart to Strange’s arrogance, and their relationship is one of the film’s finest elements. Benedict Wong offers an impressive take on Wong, who proves to be a capable sorcerer. His self-assured nature makes him an ideal straight man and ally for Strange.
Swinton brings an aura of wisdom to the Ancient One, but she doesn’t get much more to do in the story. Much has been made about the race change, yet it doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. Rachel McAdams does a nice job as Christine Palmer, and she has good chemistry with Cumberbatch. However, she is mostly sidelined for most of the film, and it would have been nice to expand her character arc.
Mads Mikkelsen succeeds in making Kaecilius a compelling antagonist. In contrast to other villains, he has a definite plan and seeks to achieve his goal. What’s unique is that he has legitimate grievances against the Ancient One. This allows for a more gripping plot and shakes things up for the characters.
The film does suffer from moments of placing bits of comedy at odd intervals. These examples include Strange spouting pop culture jokes about musicians and Wong listening to Beyonce. While there is nothing wrong with humor, one needs to use it carefully.
Director Scott Derrickson is surprisingly faithful to the source material. The film adheres close to Strange’s origin story, his training and growth as a sorcerer. Marvel fans will be pleased to see the hospital fight scene, because it adapts a sequence from The Oath miniseries. There is also a surprise cameo in the movie, and it is bound to set up the next part of Phase Three.
In terms of VFX, the movie is a delight to behold. The visual effects and CGI make Steve Ditko’s impressive 1960s-era artwork come to life. Specifically, Strange’s battles on the astral plane are one of the major highlights. While the revolving buildings may feel like Inception, the sequence is breathtaking to watch.
Doctor Strange is one of Marvel’s best films. It opens up wider possibilities for the franchise. Cumberbatch and cast do a great job with the material. Derrickson deserves praise for his focus on plot and characters.