REVIEW: Doctor Strange (2016)

Theatrical Release Poster - Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Theatrical Release Poster – Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The following is a review of Doctor Strange. The reviewed film was seen in IMAX 3D.

At this point, people expect a lot from Marvel Studios. Doctor Strange is the fourteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and most of these films have been pretty well-received. Still, Doctor Strange is a bit of a risk, seeing as it is introducing magic and beings from other dimensions to the universe.

While Doctor Strange has to introduce its own corner of the universe with just this film, Marvel Studios has been releasing these films in a smart way. Marvel Studios has, essentially, been preparing moviegoers for this kind of film with Thor, Ant-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy.

In Marvel’s Doctor Strange, Stephen Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) – one of the best neurosurgeons in the world – is involved in a very violent car accident that severely injures his hands. Strange has now lost his ability to work, but he’s not giving up. Strange searches far and wide to find something that can properly heal his hands.

His search leads him to Nepal, where someone known as the Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton) apparently holds great power as a healer. When Strange finally meets with the Ancient One, though, it is a different power that he encounters.

Strange is introduced to the world of magic and the existence of multiple dimensions. Dimensions that sorcerers – like the Ancient One – defend Earth from. Strange is overwhelmed by the power she possesses, and, eventually, the Ancient One agrees to teach him in the art of magic.

At first, though, the Ancient One is worried about teaching Dr. Stephen Strange anything, as he reminds her of a former student of her’s – Kaecilius (played by Mads Mikkelsen). Kaecilius is angry with the Ancient One, seeing as he believes she has kept the power of the dark dimension for herself.

Marvel’s Doctor Strange is an origin story that follows the classic superhero origin story formula, and therefore this film focuses on the central hero a lot. As is often the case with origin stories, some of the other characters could’ve used a bit more work – and I’ll get back to that later in the review – but the filmmakers really did a good job of introducing Dr. Stephen Strange to us.

Strange is very arrogant when you are first introduced to him in the film, and he is pretty rude at times. Yet somehow they manage to make you like him over the course of the film. Benedict Cumberbatch is a great Dr. Stephen Strange. I was worried about his accent, but I got used to it pretty quickly. I know that some people were worried that he’d just be a magic-wielding Sherlock Holmes with a cape, but Cumberbatch’s Strange is more than that.

This film also introduces us to two other sorcerers that work fantastically in this film. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Karl Mordo. If you’re a fan of the Doctor Strange comics, then you have an idea of how Mordo’s relationship with Strange may evolve, and this film definitely gives you an idea of what role Karl Mordo could fill in the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Much has been made about the casting of the Ancient One, but one thing that’s pretty clear in Doctor Strange is that Tilda Swinton’s version of the Ancient One is really spectacular. Swinton is a fantastic actress. Her character got a lot more to do in this film than I thought she would, and it was all really exciting.

Another really important ‘character’ is the best mystical item in the film – the Cloak of Levitation. This thing has a life of its own. Just like the wand picks a master in the Harry Potter franchise, mystical items pick their masters, and it’s pretty clear that Strange got the coolest one. The Cloak of Levitation stole the show!

Okay, so one of the things that excited me the most about this film was getting to, finally, hear a Michael Giacchino musical score for a Marvel film. Marvel Studios films aren’t exactly known for memorable film scores, but I really did enjoy what Giacchino composed for Doctor Strange.

When the first trailer for Doctor Strange appeared online, people started comparing the visual effects to the effects in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. But that doesn’t properly describe the effects. Sure, some of the effects are Inception-esque, but Doctor Strange ‘dreams a little bigger,’ as Eames from Inception might say.

Also, the ‘Inception-effects’ only represent the tip of the iceberg. The ‘open your eye’ sequence in the first half of the film – in which Strange learns the power of the Sorcerer Supreme – is awesome, spellbinding, and incredible. Here we’re introduced to a number of different dimensions. Some of them are beautiful, while others are terrifying.

While I clearly loved Doctor Strange, not everything in the film works. While I loved a lot of the scenes with Christine Palmer (played by Rachel McAdams), I thought Strange’s relationship with Christine Palmer was slightly underdeveloped and rushed.

Now, Marvel Studios films have been criticized a lot for not having memorable villains, and… Well. That criticism is still there. I think Kaecilius is an interesting villain, but he feels underdeveloped. That said, I do think that Mads Mikkelsen did the best he could with Kaecilius. But that is pretty much the last issue I have with the film.

Marvel Studios has done it again. While expanding its cinematic universe, Marvel has given us another fantastic hero with his very own corner of the universe. It isn’t a perfect film, but it is a very strong origin film for Dr. Stephen Strange.

Make sure to stay for the credits scenes in Doctor Strange. The mid-credits scene features a very familiar face and is one of the best credits scenes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet, and the post-credits scene gives you an idea of what a Doctor Strange sequel could look like.

8.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex

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