Action Adventure

'Doctor Strange' Film Review: The Marvel Cinematic Universe gets mystical

November 4, 2016Ben MK

Three parts Iron Man and one part Batman Begins — with a double dose of Inception and the Harry Potter series thrown in for good measure — Doctor Strange blends the familiarity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with elements of magic and mysticism, creating what is easily one of the year's most visually compelling films, and one of the most watchable superhero origin stories in recent memory.

The movie sees Benedict Cumberbatch don the Cloak of Levitation as Dr. Stephen Strange, a brilliant — not to mention, suave, extremely arrogant and ultra-rich — neurosurgeon whose hands — and, hence, career — are mangled as a result of a horrific car accident. Desperate to recover that which he has lost, Strange journeys from New York City to Kathmandu to seek the help of the mysterious Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). What he ends up gaining instead, however, is the ability to conjure spells and wield powers far beyond his wildest imagination.

A reluctant hero at the outset, Strange quickly embraces his newfound skill set in order to save the Earth from being engulfed by the Dark Dimension — or rather, by Dormammu, a fearsome entity who dwells there. Summoned by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former pupil of the Ancient One, Dormammu is, for all intents and purposes, the mystical equivalent of Thanos, the ├╝ber-villain whose cosmic shadow has loomed large over the MCU thus far. As such, it should come as no surprise that Dormammu's role in the film is more or less a teaser for future installments.

Instead, the movie's main antagonist is Kaecilius. And while the character itself lacks depth, Mikkelsen brings an entertaining combination of menace and humor to the part, verbally sparring with Cumberbatch (a scene where he repeatedly refers to Strange as "Mister Doctor" is especially hilarious) and causing no end of trouble for our protagonists, as he opens up reality-bending, dimensional portals across London, New York and Hong Kong, in an attempt to bring about the destruction of the "Sanctums" that form a protective, magical barrier around the planet.

Cumberbatch, Swinton and Mikkelsen are joined by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong as Mordo and Wong, two sorcerers who fight alongside Strange, as well as by Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, an ER nurse who is to Doctor Strange what Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts is to Iron Man. Suffice to say, this is one of the strongest casts ever assembled for a Marvel film, and they help writer/director Scott Derrickson and co-writers Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill toggle between comedy and drama with the same ease as a magician performing a sleight of hand.

Of course, this being the fourteenth entry in the ever-expanding MCU, it's not unreasonable to expect Doctor Strange to establish some tie-ins with the likes of Captain America and the rest of the Avengers. With that in mind, the movie does an excellent job bringing the Sorcerer Supreme into the fold; and keen-eyed (and eared) viewers should be on the lookout for references to Infinity Stones, the fate of Lieutenant James Rhodes in Captain America: Civil War, and even a potential hint at Doctor Strange's involvement in a future Thor sequel.

Long story short, Doctor Strange absolutely lives up to the expectations set by the thirteen films that have preceded it. However, what really distinguishes the movie from the rest of the MCU are its mind-bending visuals. Whether it's the kaleidoscopic image of a city folding in on itself, or a street fight that becomes a gravity-defying brawl along the side of a building in the blink of an eye, Doctor Strange raises a bar already set high by the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man; and it's further proof that the MCU has a long way to go before it becomes tiresome.

Doctor Strange releases November 4th, 2016 from Walt Disney Studios. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 55 Mins.

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