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The first trailer guarantees that Doctor Strange will be visually and cinematically unlike any other Marvel movie. You sense that Marvel Studios‘ latest will give basically Inception on steroids. While Strange‘s unique architecture was never in doubt, “will it have the typical Marvel charm?” was the question on everyone’s lips. Fortunately, likely thanks to renowned comedy writer Dan Harmon‘s rewrites, the most recent Marvel Cinematic Universe entry delivers in almost every regard.
We’ll definitely arrive at why I said “almost,” but first, many movie-only fans likely need some background. Doctor Strange follows the appropriately-named Dr. Steven Strange, a very stubborn, hot-shot neurosurgeon. He’s not a very likable or charming individual; traits that leading man Benedict Cumberbatch has fun with on-screen. However, as with most every origin story, his fortunes don’t last after a devastating car accident badly damages his skilled hands.
Desperate to reattain his status for his damaged ego’s sake, he treks out to a temple in Nepal to learn the mystical arts. As expected, the pompous Strange laughs off the very idea of “magic,” but the Ancient One quickly resolves his skepticism, otherwise, there wouldn’t be much of a movie. As Strange hones his otherworldly skills, he discovers the massive responsibility his newfound friends carry on their shoulders. This leads Strange to an intriguing moral dilemma of choosing to fight for others or only himself.
As with all reviews, I aim to remain spoiler-free. Unfortunately, many things I adore from Doctor Strange involve spoilers, but I’ll tread carefully. Firstly, director Scott Derrickson and the writers utilize the cast to perfection. Cumberbatch carries the film effortlessly, but you also have supporting players turning in memorable performances. Understandable controversies aside, Tilda Swinton brings an elegance, mystique, and toughness as the Ancient One. Chiwetel Ejiofor surprises as Karl Mordo with a few impassioned speeches. Benedict Wong shines as the hilariously stone-faced (and coincidentally-named) Wong. Although not exploited to her full potential, Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer is a fantastic addition as well.
To accompany the acting gravitas, Derrickson constructs the most impressive, innovative visuals from any Marvel title on any medium. The thrilling opening sequence whets the appetite, and the movie efficiently builds upon that. We’re shown a psychedelic sequence that could be this generation’s 2001: A Space Odyssey stargate scene. As seen in the trailers, there’s also a mind-bending foot chase where buildings and roads are upside down or sideways or inside each other. With the mystical rules having been thoroughly explained throughout the film, these set pieces are immensely gratifying.
As for these aforementioned “rules” of Doctor Strange‘s universe, I truly appreciated how fresh Marvel’s introduction to magic felt. You’ll see lived-in dimensions, ancient artifacts with a rich history, and an expansive library. There may be times where the audience will want to ask the movie to “slow down.” The filmmaker throws a potential overload of information at you. However, hearing the Ancient One’s musings such as “not everything makes sense; not everything has to,” the film successfully reminds you to turn off your brain, forget about the science behind the magic, and enjoy the ride.
Now I disclose why I earlier claimed Doctor Strange to “almost” deliver in every regard. Unfortunately, the Marvel villain conundrum continues. Mads Mikkelsen plays Kaecilius, and turns in a portrayal that’s nothing or less than “fine.” The most frustrating part is his lack of clear motivations. He monologues to Strange about his devious intentions (which don’t really seem that devious), but the “why” is entirely avoided. There are effective efforts to tease future villains that do have more depth, but it’s at the sacrifice of the current villain’s arc.
Also, I’ve spotted a few articles mentioning how Marvel movies not named The Avengers have forgettable musical scores. After hearing the Michael Giacchino presided over the musical arrangement, I was ready to lay those sentiments to rest. I gained confidence after listening to the end credits music released a few weeks ago. Yet throughout the film, I didn’t even notice the music as anything more than ambient noise. Yes, you don’t want the melodies to distract from the motion picture, but the musician in me clamored for something of literal and figurative note.
Luckily, none of these criticisms ruined how tremendous Doctor Strange was as a whole. I’ll never forget feeling that ultimate high after leaving the theater, having seen Marvel’s most inventive, creative entry yet. There are enough Easter eggs and name-drops peppered throughout to justify revisiting the movie often. As a bonus, this movie’s mid and end credits scenes possess heavy implications to Marvel’s future titles too. Most importantly, Strange has the familiar well-timed humor and joyous fun you’re looking for. The Doctor is in.