Doctor Strange
A Whole New World

Like Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy before it, Doctor Strange expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe beyond our own world, but it manages to do so without ever physically leaving Earth.  The movie introduces the mystic arts to the ever-expanding Marvel franchise and allows its characters to explore different dimensions.  The result is a special-effects heavy movie that feels somewhat disconnected from the rest of the MCU at this point, but still manages to entertain.

The title character is Dr. Stephen Strange, a talented and egotistical neurosurgeon whose hands are destroyed in a horrific car accident.  When Western medicine fails to heal him to his satisfaction, he heads east to a place called Kamar-Taj, where a former paraplegic says he learned how to walk again.  There, Strange meets The Ancient One, a powerful sorceress who introduces him to the astral plane and other dimensions that he could control if only he could leave his ego behind and expand his mind.  She reluctantly agrees to train him.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor StrangeThrough his training and ongoing education of the mystic arts, Strange learns that Earth is protected from other dimensions by a spell formed from three buildings called Sanctums that are located strategically across the world.  A former student of The Ancient One called Kaecilius has stolen a dangerous spell and plans to use it to destroy the Sanctums.  Strange must use what he has learned to fight Kaecilius and protect the Earth before it becomes victim to the Dark Dimension and its powerful leader Dormammu.

What stands out most about Doctor Strange on initial viewing is the special effects.  Not necessarily because they are mind-blowing or impressive, but simply because there are so many of them.  The movie essentially takes the scene from Inception in which Paris folds in on itself and runs with it.  The result is essentially action scenes that take place on the surface of a giant Rubik’s Cube that is constantly being manipulated by the film’s computer effects wizards.

There is nothing wrong with the special effects from a technical or a visual standpoint.  They look fine, but there is so much going on onscreen at any one time that it is more distracting than anything else.  And because we are inundated with so many similar effects all at once, there are none that really stand out.  One day later and I cannot think back to a single moment in the movie where I felt wowed by the effects.  And for the first time in any of the MCU movies, it felt as if the special effects were there for special effects sake more than they were there in support of a story.

The movie also suffers from a common MCU problem in that the villains are sadly underdeveloped.  Mads Mikkelsen was an intriguing choice to play the sorcerer gone bad Kaecilius, but he has little to do but look menacing with the black holes that surround his eyes and run away across the tumbling buildings.  It was a nice touch to have the former Hannibal Lecter trapped in a metal gag for a moment, but that was the only moment that stood out for the character.  The second villain, the powerful Dormammu, feels like an afterthought more than anything else.  Hopefully, the villain who is foreshadowed in the movie’s end credits sequence turns out to be a better foil for Strange in future movies.

As for the title character, Benedict Cumberbatch still seems like a perfect fit… almost too perfect.  The actor absolutely looks the part, especially once he is adorned with his signature Cloak of Levitation.  Making the mystical cloak sentient was a clever idea.  The Disney film Fantasia has been cited as an inspiration by the filmmakers, but the rug from Aladdin feels like the true inspiration here.

Cumberbatch was a good choice because he can pull off the egotistic cockiness of Stephen Strange the neurosurgeon, but still be likeable enough that we are rooting for him when he is down and out.  In that sense, it is quite similar to the dichotomy of his character on television’s Sherlock.  The actor also has great comic timing.  The combination of ego and wit is reminiscent of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark.

There is a lot going on in Doctor Strange so it is admittedly difficult to take it all in after only one viewing, but it is entertaining enough that future viewings certainly won’t feel like a chore.  It will be interesting to see how the character interacts with the rest of the Marvel characters and how his powers will play into the overarching storyline.  There is a brief hint to this in the movie’s mid-credits scene.  We may see Doctor Strange again sooner than we think.

Doctor Strange is rated PG-13 for “sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence.”  The movie is on par with the rest of the Marvel movies.  There is plenty of violence, but it is mostly cartoony with little to no blood.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Doctor Strange.