Doctor Strange – film review

"Doctor Strange" theatrical teaser poster.
“Doctor Strange” theatrical teaser poster.
For reasons unfathomable (Disney magic, perhaps?), the Marvel movie machine keeps turning out entertaining films—I can’t think of a single turkey among them. The latest addition to the MCU, Doctor Strange, is no exception.

Dr. Stephen Strange is your basic brilliant, cocky-yet-likable neurosurgeon. He’s reached a point in his career where he can pick and choose patients based on his personal interest in their cases. He makes plenty of money and burns through it just as quickly. He has a fantastic on-again, off-again girlfriend, and he’s pretty much got his life all figured out.

That all changes in a moment of distracted driving. The ensuing crash leaves Strange alive, but with mangled, trembling hands that will never operate again. When Western medicine fails him, his insistent search for a cure leads him further and further afield until he ends up in the Himalayas, seeking healing from the Temple of Kamar-Taj.

The master of this temple, an enigmatic being known only as “the Ancient One,” doesn’t think much of Doctor Strange and his flippant skepticism. After he is forcefully (and psychedelically) thrust into the perception of a universe greater than he ever imagined, Strange is rejected and shut out of the temple. But Stephen Strange doesn’t give up easily…

Benedict Cumberbatch has created a personal cottage industry around playing impossibly brilliant, often arrogant, usually misunderstood characters. This role hews strongly to type, the primary difference being that he plays an American. His accent is pretty smooth, with only a few “tells” here and there. Both he and fellow Brit Henry Cavill at DC have trouble with the American pronunciation of “been.”

That said, he makes a great Doctor Strange. Cumberbatch’s portrayal brings a much-needed down-to-earth quality to the Sorcerer Supreme, counterbalancing the world of psychedelic magic and Inception-style architectural twists in which Doctor Strange takes place. Other cast standouts include the unearthly Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, and Benedict Wong as the aptly-named Wong. (And no, you don’t even have to ask; OF COURSE there’s a Stan Lee cameo.)

This isn’t a perfect film—Strange’s girlfriend gets pretty short shrift, for instance—but it is very good. It has quick pacing, occasional humor, and only a few plot holes. For a film based on a comic book, Doctor Strange has some interesting ideas going on, not the least of which is a concept few film protagonists seem to learn: it’s not about you. Life doesn’t always turn out the way you intended, but sometimes going off-script leads you to a destiny you’d never imagined.

I don’t watch a lot of movies in 3D; the process still hasn’t lost its gimmicky feel for me, and most of the time I can’t justify the extra cost. But Doctor Strange is worth seeing in 3D. The already brain-bending visuals of this movie really pop when you bring some depth of field to the party.

This isn’t a film for small children. As other reviewers have noted, this is the most bloody Marvel movie to date. Visuals are intense and frightening, ranging from realistic depictions of surgery to a jarring car accident to surreal visions of an expanded universe to bloody fighting with weapons and magic. Just the way buildings flex and bend and gravity flows in response to magical manipulation might be too much for young viewers.

Overall, though, Doctor Strange is very entertaining and a visual field trip into the heart of magical weirdness. It’s worth seeing in theaters if you can, or on a very big home movie screen if you can’t.

Release Date: November 4, 2016 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Language: English

MySF Rating: Four point five stars
Family Friendliness: 60%

Content:

Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (a character drinks beer in a post-credits scene)
Language: 2 (occasional cursing)
Nudity: 0
Sexuality: 0 (a character is kissed on the cheek in one scene)
Violence: 4 (medical images/wounds being sewn up, intense magical fighting/beatings, implied decapitation, intense peril, lots of bleeding, deaths)

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