Marvel Studios has another winner with DOCTOR STRANGE (2016), starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the latest addition to the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe, for the uninitiated). DOCTOR STRANGE is a fine film which introduces a fascinating new character audiences will look forward to seeing in future Marvel films.
Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a brilliant neurosurgeon...well, he's brilliant except for when he decides to look at x-rays on his phone while driving a winding mountain road. The arrogant, self-involved Strange discovers he's not invincible when he has a horrific crash which leaves his hands in ruins.
There seems to be no medical cure which will enable Strange to return to his all-important career. In desperation Strange turns to a mystical place in Nepal which he learns about from a man whose paralysis was cured there. Thanks to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and others, Doctor Strange receives far more than he bargained for, learning how to create something out of nothing and bend the space-time continuum.
Cumberbatch is excellent as a very strong, well-defined character, arrogant yet sympathetic. I'd love to see Doctor Strange go head to head with Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark, who first appeared in IRON MAN (2008). While Tony started out destroying others via the weapons he invented, rather than saving lives, they share in common being brilliant men who suffer grievous physical injuries; over time each is humbled by experience and finds new ways to contribute.
THE RAZOR'S EDGE (1946) were just two of the films which crossed my mind as I watched this one. And is it just me, or does a Sorcerer Supreme have more than a little in common with a Jedi Knight?
At the same time, the physical world created in this film is not quite like anything I've ever seen; thumbs up to the designers of the scenes where the world folds and unfolds in dizzying geometric designs. (Seeing this in IMAX 3D would not be for the faint of heart.) This is a case where CGI is inventive and well used.
The movie simultaneously finds humanity in strange places, such as the helpfully insistent Cloak of Levitation -- which funnily enough reminded me of the Magic Carpet in ALADDIN (1992). The Cloak is a wonderful "character," and the first moment Strange flies is thrilling.
There's also heart in Strange's scenes with Rachel McAdams as Dr. Christine Palmer, who must process a dizzying amount of information in mere seconds after being reunited with Strange. Somehow she must save Strange's life while talking to his "astral being" and things explode around her. McAdams' role is brief, but she's effective as a woman able to handle the unexpected. I'd like to see more of her in the future as well.
DOCTOR STRANGE runs a well-paced 115 minutes. It was directed by Scott Derrickson. It was filmed by Ben Davis, who also shot GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014) and AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015).
The musical score for DOCTOR STRANGE is stronger than that of most Marvel films, thanks to the fine composer Michael Giacchino (THE INCREDIBLES).
Parental Advisory: DOCTOR STRANGE is rated PG-13 for violence including an "intense crash sequence." The first moments in the film with the chief villain (Mads Mikkelson) were what bothered me the most. Otherwise it's a fine film for older children, with themes focused on "Life's not all about you" and the importance of helping others.
As always, stay through the end credits for not one but two additional "tag" scenes, one of which is quite amusing, the other surprising.
For more on DOCTOR STRANGE, please visit reviews in the Los Angeles Times ("pleasurably trippy...playful and distinctive"), USA Today ("A kaleidoscope of weirdness...Benedict Cumberbatch plays Stephen Strange with enchanting spirit and a clever wit"), and the New York Times ("giddily enjoyable...visually transfixing"). A trailer is here.
Cumberbatch's next appearance as Doctor Strange will apparently be in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018), per IMDb.
Coming to the MCU in 2017: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017), SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017), and THOR: RAGNAROK (2017). Marvel fans will have to wait till 2018 and beyond for BLACK PANTHER, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, CAPTAIN MARVEL, and the previously mentioned AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014), IRON MAN (2008), IRON MAN 2 (2010), IRON MAN 3 (2013), THOR (2011), THE AVENGERS (2012), THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013), GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014), AGENT CARTER (2015), ANT-MAN (2015), AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015), and CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016).