The latest film in Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has arrived with “Doctor Strange.” Director Scott Derrickson took the Marvel comic of the same name and made it into their most surprising film since the first “Iron Man” graced theater screens in 2008.
The titular Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an egotistical but gifted neurosurgeon. He is arrogant, but his skills to save the lives of others are without peer. One night, Strange gets into a car accident that damages his hands and forces him into retirement. Determined to regain his abilities, he travels to Nepal in order to find a new method of healing, after spending much of his time and riches on more traditional methods to no avail. He then aims to study the mystic arts under the tutelage of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). As the film progresses, Strange discovers how to not only master his body and mind, but opens a multiverse of possibilities.
Much like Tony Stark before him, Strange is an individual that many can identify with through his strengths and weaknesses. As he must defend the world against the dark sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), he discovers how there is more than one way to accomplish the same task. While Kaecilius uses his powers to bring death and destruction through brute force, Strange relies on his wit and intelligence to trick his enemies into defeat without throwing a single punch. He takes the reins of the “Sorcerer Surpreme” with an enchanted cape that deems the wearer worthy, much like Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir.
Even though Scott Derrickson has directed various genre films in the past, the world of the supernatural is depicted like nothing you’ve ever seen in a big-budget comic book film before. With a $165 million budget at his disposal, he uses the source material’s otherworldly settings to convey a mind-bending and spectacular journey that recalls the visceral and thought-provoking thrill of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” The special effects and camera work give off the aura of having your mind pulled from its body and taken on a journey through space and time in the vein of the classic “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Yet, some of the biggest benefits of the film come from the smallest touches. The performances the cast give are among the most compelling of the year. Cumberbatch’s rendition of Strange gives us one of the most realistic characters that Marvel has produced. Even as he conjures illusions through thought and heals patients that are at death’s door, his flaws make him a human being that everyone can identify with in some way. One can easily believe Strange can conquer space and time even when fate has denied him the ability to legibly write his name.
With the film shattering numerous box office records and garnering massive critical acclaim (the film sits at a 90% Rotten Tomatoes rating as of this writing), “Doctor Strange” is easily the best comic book film since “The Dark Knight.” It takes a concept that is admittedly bizarre and makes it a spectacular, effects-driven blockbuster, as well as a human drama fueled by an engaging story with surprisingly complex characters. As the character is expected to play a large part in “The Avengers: Infinity War” in 2018, the film is an ideal introduction to one of Marvel’s most underrated characters. Marvel Studios has cemented itself as a powerhouse with this film, which will surely be remembered for years to come.
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen
Directed By Scott Derrickson
My Rating: *****/5
Review by Steven Pryor