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‘Doctor Strange’ And The Sorcerer Supreme’s Infinity Stone (Movie Review)

doctor strange thumbIt should be exciting for Marvel to invite audiences to the wizarding world of Doctor Strange. Armed with another strong cast and the ability to produce some fantastic visuals that stand out in a way that’s uncharacteristically inventive for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this 14th entry in the series that began with Iron Man back in 2008 at least knows how to make things seem fresh. Of course, “seem fresh” is the kind of visual distortion that one could actually expect from a magician with the power to enter different dimensions. As it stands, while there was a conscious effort to push the action scenes to a new level, this story of neurosurgeon-turned-sorcerer follows a pretty standard operating procedure.

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Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the latest ego-driven, rich, white guy to be humbled just enough and put at his lowest, before becoming one of the most powerful people on the planet. As Doctor Stephen Strange, he begins the film as a hot shot neurosurgeon, only to get in a horrible auto collision that results in heavy nerve damage to his main attraction – his hands. With little patience for recovery and no effort to take solace from his colleague and former lover, Christine Palmer (an underused Rachel McAdams), Strange does what all men would likely do in his situation, travel to Nepal.

There are reasons for this decision and they are certainly justified, as evidenced by the film’s world-bending cold open, which serves as a fun preview for the wild action to come. Director Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) fits the Marvel pattern as far as finding a director with some unique ideas, but not far along enough in standing to not be confined to franchise demands. That said, he manages to imbue the film with a cinematic vision that is fittingly strange for the MCU.

The best example is during Strange’s initial arrival in Kathmandu, where he is greeted by the Ancient One (bald Tilda Swinton) and introduced to some amazing powers that involve astral projection and visions of other dimensions. The result is a wild series of images that works to provide a hip take on 2001’s third act journey to the beyond, before returning us to Inception in overdrive with later action scenes. Derrickson and his filmmaking team make it very apparent that a mission was in play to finally make the requisite 3D viewing option a worthwhile endeavor and that certainly makes the film worth seeing in theaters right there.

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But what about the superhero element? Marvel has spent nearly a decade introducing audiences to various cinematic incarnations to their (now) favorite heroes. Many of those films have been origin stories and Doctor Strange really doesn’t do much to shake itself away from the standard plotting of a typical hero’s journey. As a result, after a wild introduction of Strange to the magic in this universe, the middle of the film does little to feel all that new. Obviously the setting and spiritual nature of the surroundings add a new flavor to the traditional origin story elements, but the film is almost at odds with itself when it comes to trying to liven things up with quips, banter and other familiar Marvel elements, before getting back into action.

To its credit and its detriment, Doctor Strange feels pretty breezy, if not a little rushed, as far as going through the motions and arriving at it grander moments. Not including credits and post-credit scenes, the film is fairly short, which seems strange for Doctor Strange. It is almost impressive, as that seems to mean cutting some of the fat, even if we are being denied one of the more enjoyable aspects of these Marvel films, the banter between acclaimed actors. However, there are a lot of dialogue-based scenes that provide exposition and delve into all the mumbo jumbo concerning the rules of magic and what have you. This all comes before the final third of the film, which is almost entirely composed of action.

The movie truly does shine here. I would not have thought Doctor Strange would be the Marvel film to feature some of the most exciting action scenes, but here we are. Utilizing the abilities of various sorcerer’s to their full potential, the way reality bends to the wills of powerful individuals, as chases and fights ensue, leads to some seriously cool sights. And with those sights, you also have a talented crew of performers.

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Cumberbatch seems up to the challenge, complete with an American accent that feels like a mix between Dr. House and Harrison Ford, but is missing an actual arc for his character. Sure, he has a setback early on, but the man really doesn’t change. Instead, the guy just continues to prove how smart he truly is, with very minimal attempts at challenging his worldview (his sudden remorse for having to kill an adversary at one point seems to come out of nowhere). It’s better to look at the guy as if he’s getting back at Downey and his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes by doing Downey’s Tony Stark shtick (which, if anything, was altered for the films to resemble Strange in the comics).

More impressive is the supporting cast. Swinton has the exact presence and look of an eternal and all-knowing being. Chiwetel Ejiofor has the most notable arc as Karl Mordo, a student of the ancient one, with enough presence to make even his silliest lines seem insightful. Mads Mikkelson leads the charge as the villain, Kaecilius, whose intentions are interesting, but will ultimately be forgotten when it once again comes time to evaluate how memorable the MCU villains actually are. Reliable character actor Benedict Wong is enjoyable as Wong, a master of the mystical arts and a truly serious librarian. And lastly, McAdams gets some good scenes to play, but the film has almost no real use of her. It can be commended that she does not exist in this film to be a damsel, but it feels more like Marvel wanted points for having more than just Swinton to balance the boy’s club.

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Doctor Strange certainly has all the winning attributes of a typical Marvel Studios film and that’s not a bad thing. It excels in not doing anything to break the mold, which has its own problems, but adds on further interest thanks to the trippy visuals. The cast is strong enough to make the material seem worthwhile as well. Having tackled technology, engineering and whatever it is you want to call Thor, it is neat to watch this comic universe explore mysticism. It may not have made for much more than a typical superhero adventure, but it is a fun one. Plus, Strange gets a pretty sweet cape with an equally cool title – the Cloak of Levitation. Being a doctor does have its perks after all.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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