Monday, November 7, 2016


After 13 successful films in eight years Marvel and their parent company Disney seems to have this superhero thing down-pat, but the newest addition to their series is by far their greatest challenge to put to film. Where their previous heroes use familiar elements such as brute strength and technology to battle bad guys, DOCTOR STRANGE is a character which swims in the weird; bizarre things like out-of-body projections, time-loops, mystical portholes leading to other dimensions, and folding reality of top of itself in eye-popping collages of merging images. It’s the most out-there hero to be brought to film, and its success or failure could determine if the genre will be stuck in the familiar or have the ability to soar further.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), is a brilliant yet arrogant neurosurgeon, who after a vicious car-accident loses motor function in his hands. Seeking a cure, he travels to the Far East, where he discovers the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), and Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who lead a world-wide secret group of sorcerers…sorcerers who are under threat from former student Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).

Showing no shame, director Scott Derrickson keeps DOCTOR STRANGE in the classic pages of traditional storytelling. It’s the Hero’s Journey to the letter, as Strange goes from one stage to the next…from his tragic fall from his comfortable life, to encounters with mentors, to journeying through the belly of the beast, and rediscovery of one’s self. It’s a familiar template, but the surroundings and the characters keep it all fresh. Strange is painted as an arrogant and ego-filled character in the early goings, and his journey to becoming a hero runs parallel to his path to becoming a better person.

There is an old axiom in filmmaking that the higher the concept, the simpler the story must be…and by sticking to that rule, DOCTOR STRANGE has a perfect balance. Once the mystical side of the film opens up, the dazzling and breathtaking visuals, most of which are sights never before seen on film, are a lot to take in. The visual dazzle isn’t just showing off, as each magic trick serves a purpose in the story; either to provide explanation to the new world or to serve as a backdrop or a way of fighting for our characters. At the center of all the acid trip-like (not that this Blogger would know for sure) is Strange, and he keeps things grounded as being a very human character just trying to find his way.

Director Scott Derrickson keeps the pacing tight and the humor well-timed. The film moves, and the weighty emotional moments add some welcome heart. Derrickson never lets Strange the character get lost in all of the weirdness, and his trauma in losing control of his hands can really be felt. The powers that the characters wield are wild and lead to some tricky sequences which can keep the audience fully engaged and makes the adventure a true thinking-man’s superhero film. Michael Giacchino’s score is magnificent.

The goddamn 3D is spectacular.

Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect as Strange. Shedding his British accent perfectly (which takes some getting used to), he plays the character as stubborn and spoiled, but finds a way to add some tragedy and generates a great amount of empathy. Tilda Swinton is absolutely mesmerizing as the Ancient One, and Chiwetel Ejiofor is excellent as always. Benedict Wong nearly steals the show as comic relief, and Mads Mikkelsen, as the Big Bad of the film…is also very good. His villain is a unique entry into the Marvel universe as his motivations could be argued to be on the right side of things. Two well-known actors, Rachel McAdams and Michael Stuhlbarg appear as Strange’s medical colleagues, but are used sparingly and put aside for the bigger picture.

Despite being connected to the larger series of movies, DOCTOR STRANGE is very much a stand-alone film, and only has a few winks and nods to the bigger picture…but even those winks are a firm connection and peek into what’s to come for this character and others. Once the visual assault clears our fried brains, DOCTOR STRANGE finishes as a unique, fun, and satisfying superhero origin story which delivers on every promise. Just like its main character, it masters the strange and bizarre…and ultimately raises the bar for what superhero movies are capable of.


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