“Heroes like the Avengers protect the world from physical dangers. We safeguard it against more mystical threats..”
Dr. Stephen Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) life changes after a car accident robs him of the use of his hands. When traditional medicine fails him, he looks for healing, and hope, in a mysterious enclave. He quickly learns that the enclave is at the front line of a battle against unseen dark forces bent on destroying reality. Before long, Strange is forced to choose between his life of fortune and status or leave it all behind to defend the world as the most powerful sorcerer in existence.
Marvel has shackled the superhero genre to such a degree, that Teddy Roosevelt would likely have smashed this monopoly to pieces, if this were the early 1900’s. From the arrogance of humanity with Iron Man, to the Hubris of protectors from distant worlds in Thor, all the way to cosmic debauchery with Guardians of the Galaxy, there is no stone left unturned for the this comic book film juggernaut. At least that’s what we thought. Doctor Strange, Marvel’s latest comic adaptation, has now conquered other dimensions, and captured alternate realities helping Marvel firmly tighten its grasp on the genre. Director Scott Derrickson’s vision for the sorcerer supreme, is not necessarily breathing new life into the classic marvel formula, but still finds a way to innovate, while towing the line, adhering to the larger universal platform.
There is simply no other way to see this film, except for in IMAX 3D. This is a kaleidoscopic psychedelic head trip. Each scene scoffs at the last as if to say “anything you can do, I can do better.” Marvel and Derrickson have truly outdone themselves, and everyone else, by way of the single most dazzling visual display of fantastical jig-sawing you have ever seen on screen. Strange makes Inception look like a student film, visually speaking. There is something almost therapeutic in the barrage of rangy, bright, twistedly cinematic effects that will dizzy you, while still magnetically sucking you in. Digital effects in superhero films tend to over play their hand, making some of the more large scale visuals fall flat. We have become desensitized to the word Marvel has served to us, as the scale keeps broadening, so do the visual effects. Doctor Strange finds a way to undercut, and supercede that numbness, with an array of innovative and well timed displays. The set pieces are vast, and detailed, and the environment is an immersive design that has a way of placing you into the action, hence the therapeutic nature. It’s this immersion that sets this film apart from other Marvel entries. For such a fantastical story, you still feel you’re at the center of it, thanks to impressive and innovative visual tactics that find a way to engulf the viewer and enhance their experience. While it can sometimes be easy to feel overwhelmed, Derrickson reigns in the action and attempts to ground the story, but you still get to submerge yourself head first, the same way the title character does.
The artistry of it all could have overtaken the story, and if it had, then we’d be stuck with a Alice in Wonderland-esque film. A bunch of beautiful pictures, and a dull uninspired plot, leaving a sour taste. Instead, the influx of humor peppered throughout, creates a more palatable narrative, that may have otherwise weighed heavy on the audience. There are a lot of dense thematics at play here, and precision was necessary to keep attention on all of the many morals staking themselves to the roots of the film. Precision is what Derrickson provided, able to balance various subgenres methodically weaving their way through the plot. Doctor Strange feels like a Marvel film. It’s tone nestles in with the rest of the catalog, but even so, Strange also emerges as a unique offering, that works separately from it all. Part of this certainly stems from it being an origin story, but also it never relies on the universe’s predecessors to pave its way, only vaguely alluding to the Avengers in anecdotal remarks. The story itself plays out with a deft allure, strategically unraveling in revelations. The audience is learning and evolving as the protagonist does, and as comprehensive as the graphics become, the story remains grounded, allowing for a emotional throughline to form in which the audience can bond with the characters as they emotionally develop.
Marvel has never had an issue in developing their protagonists, and Doctor Strange is no exception. The casting is inspired and the development is disciplined and detailed, except for the villains. Unfortunately for Marvel, their consistent scourge of mediocre antagonists is extended an additional film. While there is nothing particularly egregious about Madds Mikkelsen’s portrayal of Kaecilius, there is also nothing interesting about it. It seems strange (pun intended!) to cast such an enigmatic and powerfully present a performer as Mikkelson, only to under develop his character. We are given a very thinly motivated mustache twirler who hasn’t an ounce of depth. Between Mikkelson and the his band of cultist cronies, the villainy in Doctor Strange is ultimately the films biggest misstep. The only solace to take, is that it is one of the only missteps made. This issue is granted some alleviation with the stunning performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Baron Mordo, whose reactionary responses all ring true, and has an incredible progression that feels completely organic as the story unfolds.
Marvel will likely never rest on their laurels. Every time there is any possibility of stagnancy, Kevin Feige and the rest of this team breed new innovations, and introduce new and effective characters that add vibrancy to the greater universe. There is no stagnancy, there is never a dull moment to be had, and it’s an unprecedented layering that has enveloped fans the world over. This is simply the most visually stunning film of the year, and has found a way to outdo mainstays like Jim Cameron’s Avatar, and Chris Nolan’s Inception. Doctor Strange is a film that creates an existence that can stand alone, or fall in line, and that is what is so impressive. It doesn’t adhere to all of the rules of the wider fold, but it also doesn’t distance itself in a way that would prevent it from bleeding into the MCU. Above all else, the writers have created a well rounded character with a myriad of flaws, and an emotional resonance that endears him to audiences. Benedict Cumberbatch has now imbued himself to this character the way a Ryan Reynolds has to Deadpool. His performance lacks the majestic cadences that have made him famous, but stripped of that majesty, he has this innate vulnerability. The rest of the cast are all equally fantastic in their roles, with Tilda Swinton proving that once again she can literally make any role, under any circumstance, her own. But this is Doctor Strange’s Story, and Cumberbatch’s vehicle, and there was literally no better hands to leave this character in than his.
4.25/5 EPIC BRO