We’re supposed to be right in the middle of Serious Films Season, when movies for grown-ups dominate at the box office, things get a little dour and sober and righteous and
corny noble and Viola Davis and Denzel Washington begin making notes for their Oscar acceptance speeches.
Doctor Strange is yet another entry in the seemingly interminable Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I knew nothing of the character or plot going in, as Doctor Strange is one of the comic giant’s lesser-known heroes.
I enjoyed it immensely, probably because although it tells a familiar tale, it does so with a great deal of wit and style, and probably because there is a huge amount of CGI crash-bang-wallop stuff going on, you can follow the action.
The film is an origin story about how brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon Steven Strange, his hands ruined after a car accident and seeking a cure to help make him a great doctor again, ends up in Katmandhu under the tutelage of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who shows him that his reality is just one of an infinite number in an endless multiverse, and how Strange trains in ancient mystical arts to becomes a sorcerer, an astral warrior in an eternal battle between Good and Evil … or something.
There is a lot of mystical mumbo-jumbo and talk of Astral Planes and chakras and using the spirit to control the body and tapping into the energy of the universe and existing in a place beyond time. At several points the film looks like a LSD trip. Doctor Strange might be the first Marvel film that will appeal both to diehard comics fanboys and burnt-out hippies.
Benedict Cumberbatch has a ridiculous amount of fun as the title character, combining Sherlock-type arrogance and Tony Stark-like one-liners (when the MCU gets around to putting Cumberbatch and Robert Downey, Jr. together, expect the insults to fly).
Tilda Swinton brings pathos to a somewhat thankless role (necessary chunks of exposition and Obi Wan Kenobi-isms), but she does at least make wearing Tibetan robes looks genuinely cool and she gets to have a pretty awesome fight with
Darth Vader Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen, brilliant as always and admirably resisting the temptation to chew the scenery). Chiwetel Ejiofor is Mordo, Strange’s trainer, sidekick and conscience. Rachel MacAdams is really stuck with a lousy part, and I hope that in subsequent films they give her character more to do.
We opted to see Doctor Strange in the Galactic screening room (bigger screen, better sound, comfier seats) and it was definitely worth it. The visual effects are some of the best I’ve ever seen, and in several set pieces the Inception-like folding of buildings was cleverly employed to tell the story, not just serve as a spectacular backdrop to the fisticuffs going on in the foreground.
Marvel films have been getting increasingly sillier (and longer and louder), and for me, anyway, each is less enjoyable than the one preceding it, but Doctor Strange is, well, magic.
Verdict: Four Mystic Relics out of Five