Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Wong, Benjamin Bratt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Doctor Strange, Film review, Mads Mikkelsen, Marvel's Doctor Strange, Michael Stuhlbarg, Rachel McAdams, Scott Derrickson, Stan Lee, Stephen Strange, Tilda Swinton
When the name Stephen Strange was first uttered by Hydra Agent Sitwell as he was being tossed around by Steve Rogers in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, our ears all pricked up a little. It seemed the much-talked about Doctor Strange might actually become a reality. Then came even more exciting news: Benedict Cumberbatch will play the Sorcerer Supreme in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) first foray into the mystical world.
Well, the wait is finally over and I am happy to report director Scott Derrickson’s vision of Doctor Strange is nothing short of an extraordinary visual trip into a magical world. The visual effects are, at times, “Inception-y” (but better) while making you feel like you have jumped into an MC Escher drawing. Sometimes, you just feel like you are looking into a wonderful kaleidoscope filled with an explosion of colours.
The journey for Dr Stephen Strange, MD, PhD, is a long and complicated one. As a renowned New York neurosurgeon, he is erudite and has a photographic memory. He is also arrogant, taking on patients others consider incurable. Despite his love for beautiful things – including ER surgeon Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), cars, watches – there is no doubt Stephen Strange lives a lonely existence.Speeding along a windy road on a rainy evening, Strange takes a phone call that momentarily distracts him. Lesson number 1: don’t text and drive. His sports car plummets into the river and his hands smash into the car’s dashboard. He is barely alive. When he wakes up in the hospital, he finds Christine by his side and his hands with metal rods sticking out of them. It had taken Dr Nicodemus “Nic” West (Michael Stuhlbarg) eleven hours to save his life and his hands, but in Strange’s mind, Nic has ruined his hands instead of saving them.
Finding no luck from the scientific world, Strange begins to look for help wherever he can find it, including Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt), a former factory worker with severe spinal injuries who became “cured” after visiting a place named Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu, Nepal. Strange spends his last dime on a one-way ticket to Kamar-Taj and becomes a student of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), learning how to fight potential enemies in both the physical and mystical worlds.
“How do I get from here to there?” asks Strange of the Ancient One when he first arrives, eager to learn. It turns out it requires a lot of studying from books in the Kamar-Taj library watched over and guarded by Wong (Benedict Wong) – “just Wong? Like Adele, Drake, Bono, Eminem…?” and some martial arts training with Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Though initially only seeking to heal his hands, Strange quickly discovers the other side of the Natural Law he practises. A splinter group – the Zealots – headed by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former student of the Ancient One’s practises Dark Magic and will do anything to gain favour with their master, Dormammu.
A great deal is packed into the two hours of screen time, especially with this film being an introduction to a lesser-known character in the Marvel arsenal. The fight scenes are epic, and at times rather funny, as we have come to expect of the MCU. Whilst there is plenty of dramatic tension and emotion as each of the characters experience their own pain for very different reasons, the humour serves to contribute to the well-roundedness of the film rather than detract from it. There is plenty of action and mind-bending visuals with never a dull moment. Oh, and the compulsory Stan Lee cameo.
Cumberbatch has proven he can play intelligent, arrogant, sympathetic, humorous and action-man all at once (as if his fans did not already know this!). The visual effects look stunning in 3D (without giving you a headache) but lacks nothing in 2D. In case you have missed the memo on all the previous thirteen MCU movies, DO NOT LEAVE THE CINEMA UNTIL THE SCREEN FADES TO BLACK! There is a mid-credit and post-credit “stings” that appear at the end of the movie. Yes, that is right, folks, it is only fair that we all stick around to acknowledge all the good folks who toiled on this project to bring it to the screen.
Doctor Strange (and his Cloak of Levitation) is now showing across Australia and opens in the US on November 4th, 2016.