After the amazingness that was ‘Captain America: Civil War’ this summer, we will finally see the first origin story of Marvel Studios’ Phase Three when ‘Doctor Strange’ hit theaters this week. And as much as I’d like to simply say that the movie was magical, that wouldn’t do Dr. Stephen Strange’s introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe nearly enough justice.
Following a tragic accident that leaves the world-renowned neurosurgeon unable to use his hands as he once did, Strange embarks on a journey of healing that leads him to the Ancient One’s doorstep in Kathmandu, Nepal. It is there that he begins his mastery of the mystic arts and the secrets of the multiverse. However, he also encounters people like Kaecilius and his zealots who choose to use these dimension and reality-bending powers to carry out a more sinister agenda, so it’s up to the newly minted sorcerer to keep our world safe from the threats looming in the deepest, darkest dimensions.
Despite being marred with controversy when the film’s casting was first announced, I have to say that the cast was extremely top notch. Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t my first choice to play Strange by a long shot, but he ended up doing a really great job with the character. I wouldn’t put him on the same level as Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, but I will say that the ‘Sherlock’ star is very believable in the part. I could go on and on about the rest of the cast like Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, and Mads Mikkelsen as well. I could even speak to the talents of those that played the smaller roles like Rachel McAdams and Benjamin Bratt. But above all, Tilda Swinton may have ended up being one of the highlights of the movie overall for me. Am I disappointed that the character of the Ancient One was race-swapped from a Tibetan monk to a Celtic woman? Yeah, a little bit. But as I anticipated, the source material was altered so that the Ancient One was more of a title rather than a person. Within the confines of this story and the MCU, it worked really well. Swinton’s portrayal captured the spirit of the original character while modernizing it for today’s audience. Plus, it was hard to be mad while being swept up in her performance that was equal parts kind, badass, funny, and heart-wrenching.
Speaking of funny, I wasn’t expecting to use that word to describe this movie. The mystic arts are very serious business and they were treated as such, but Marvel’s trademark balance of levity and seriousness was applied to what may be the most “adult” story that they’ve told thus far. (And when I say “adult”, I don’t mean that there were explicit adult situations, but rather it heavily featured regular adults just trying to live their lives and some of them just so happen to be experts in magic.) This could have easily featured the tone of a modern Batman or Superman movie, but it was filled with moments where I found myself literally laughing out loud rather than just cracking a smile. A few interactions between Strange and a revamped Wong come to mind immediately. Plus there’s a certain relic that creates some surprising comic relief with the good doctor. But my favorite had to be a moment in the final battle where comedic timing and repetition played a large role in the climax of the movie. If I get any more specific, we may venture into spoiler territory, but once you see it, I think you’ll get my drift.
Finally, while everything previously mentioned was certainly noteworthy, the various spells and the endless dimensions crafted by the animation and visual effects teams may have been the real stars of the film. It’s pretty remarkable how those things were brought to life in such a way that would have made legendary comic book artist Steve Ditko (who is one of the co-creators of the hero) very proud. ‘Doctor Strange’ perfectly captured the trippy, psychedelic feel of the comic book from the 60s and 70s and presented it flawlessly on the big screen courtesy of the epic cinematography, mind-bending action, and solid world-building all around. As the character of Strange was taking this journey into mystery, we were right there along for the ride getting thrown in there with him and it’s an experience that must be viewed for the first time in IMAX 3D if you are able. Marvel Studios has been largely criticized for their 3D in the past, especially when it comes to something like ‘Thor: The Dark World’, but this is the first time that they absolutely nail it in every way. This story lends itself to the technology in the most amazing ways that range from the huge ‘Inception’-esque moments to small, minor details of a spell that you will marvel at because all of it just creates a visual smorgasbord for True Believers of all ages to enjoy.
Back in 2013 when the rumblings for this movie really started to pick up, sources called this project “the new hub of the MCU” and compared it to the first ‘Iron Man’ film. Well, that description could not have become truer. As the newcomer into this cinematic universe, Strange offers a unique opportunity for new viewers to jump right into the middle of the story and pretty much be up to speed. ‘Doctor Strange’ really does feel like a whole new beginning for the House of Ideas on the big screen thanks to this movie and acts as a solid reminder of what this studio does so well. They take what you think you know and make it even better than you could have ever imagined. So yeah, I could have simply said that it was magical up front and moved on, but like the mystical arts themselves, there is more than meets the eye (of Agamotto).
‘Doctor Strange’ starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benedict Wong, and Mads Mikkelsen emerges on this plane on November 4, 2016.