Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Welcome back to the Marvel Universe, as ever-expanding as our own, and also, incidentally, as chaotic. Marvel's newest installment, Doctor Strange, will link into all the others, namely the Avengers films, in due time, this being an origin story meant to introduce the character, the post-credit teasers letting you know just how Stephen Strange will unite with Thor, Cap, Tony, and all the rest. Accepting a casting into a Marvel film is a ticket to guaranteed future paychecks, as this behemoth of a franchise doesn't look to be slowing down any time soon, despite a few of its individual films not holding up to critical standards when examined as individual films. But perhaps that's the magic and the genius of this universe; it doesn't matter what critics think, it doesn't matter how well one piece of the puzzle is made, and there's no stopping the momentum of this runaway train, the only choice is to jump on.
Doctor Stephen Strange, noted surgeon and medical genius, the envy of New York City, and most likely the most pompous man in town. His personality has driven away, among others, his ex-flame, fellow doctor Christine Palmer. They work together to save lives, but he for the prestige, she for the joy of making a difference. One night, on the way to just another speaking engagement in his ultra-expensive sports car, Doctor Strange crashes on a wet road, waking up in a hospital bed with no memory of the last hours. Not simply happy to be alive, Strange is devastated to learn that his hands have been irreparably damaged and that he will never work as a surgeon again. When he exhausts all options in the U.S., Strange goes abroad in search of a magical cure, and magic is exactly what he finds. A woman known as the Ancient One begins to teach Strange the secrets of the mystic world, a dimension beyond our own, a place where any good or evil is possible.
I thought that Doctor Strange would be a completely unique version of a Marvel Universe movie, that it would be a more cerebral approach to the comic book genre that has been dominating our local theatres for the past few years. Instead, it was a typical take on an intelligent character, forcing him into the MU box instead of adapting the style to fit his new shape. That was the most disappointing element to me, that this film didn't jump off the screen as an alternative to the normal fare, an attractive package to those are a bit too critical to jump on the Marvel bandwagon completely. And looking at it from another angle, Doctor Strange was also not as good as Captain America: Civil War, so it failed in two ways to impress me as a reluctant audience member of a franchise that I have come to enjoy, but that I can't quite forgive for its multitude of flaws.
In its defense, this film doesn't really have a laundry list of mistakes, and should be the entertaining comic book movie that most are looking forward to when they step into the theatre. The effects alone are worth the price of admission and will impress even the most experienced eye. The film should really be seen in 3-D, but even without, the Matrix/Inception concepts behind the bending of the landscape are quite impressive, the action sequences shot with an amazing attention to minute detail. Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange was a perfect choice, but unfortunately only furthered my point about playing down to the franchise, not elevating it to where it could have gone. His jokes were far too silly and expected, I wish he had taken the character to a more serious level, although I was impressed by his flawless accent. Ejiofor as Mordo was solid, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One was oddly wonderful, Mads Mikkelson as Kaecilius was awesomely evil, but I didn't enjoy McAdams, who I thought was completely throwaway. Taken as a whole, and viewed as a piece of a greater puzzle, Doctor Strange is a fun fall film that should find an easy audience, but one that falls just a little short of reaching its own incredibly high ceiling.