Take 2: Caught In The ‘Doctor Strange’ Spell

November 10, 2016

Marvel enters a strange new world in the mind-blowing “Doctor Strange.” The fantasy is unlike anything Marvel Studios has done before. The 14th movie in its ever-expanding cinematic universe embraces the element of mysticism, showcasing the studio’s most ambitious special effects to date. The comic book film is Marvel’s best origin story since 2008’s “Iron Man.” Benedict Cumberbatch casts a spell as brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange, the eventual Sorcerer Supreme. When Strange gets into a horrific car accident, he loses the use of his hands, ending his career. After several surgeries and Western medicine fail him, Strange heads to Nepal seeking healing. What he finds is the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), an age-old sorcerer who agrees to teach him the mystic arts. As his mastery of magic grows, Strange learns there’s an inter-dimensional battle raging for Earth led by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a renegade pupil of the Ancient One. Strange must decide if he’s willing to join fellow sorcerers Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong) in the fight to save their world. “Doctor Strange” smoothly fits into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it introduces magic. While the Avengers defend Earth from physical threats, the sorcerers protect it from mystical dangers. “Doctor Strange” jumps into the alternate dimensions of reality that “Ant-Man” touched upon. The fantasy carries a more adult tone than other Marvel movies. But “Doctor Strange” also takes a wry look at the occult, weaving in Marvel’s trademark humor. Its kaleidoscopic splendor makes the spectacle worth seeing in 3-D. The mind-bending action, which spans London, New York’s Greenwich Village and Hong Kong, shows cities folding into each other, fights on the astral plane and multiple dimensions. It’s refreshing to see a comic book film that doesn’t rely on massive destruction. The impressive climax conjures up a resolution outside the box. “Doctor Strange” follows the typical beats of a superhero origin story, but it executes them so well under Scott Derrickson’s dynamic direction. Strange starts out as a good doctor, but not a good person. Strange wasn’t looking for redemption, but it finds him anyway. Drawing on his abrasive “Sherlock” persona from the BBC TV series, Cumberbatch is the perfect choice for Strange. He makes the cocky doctor likeable and sympathetic as he embarks on his unlikely hero’s journey. Cumberbatch — who shows a nice flair for comedy — is the link to the audience as he questions the magic around him. Cumberbatch is backed by a strong cast. As Kaecilius, Mikkelsen plays an intimidating villain whose motivations make sense. Ejiofor is sensitive and loyal as the conflicted Mordo, whose own story is just beginning. Wong (Benedict Wong) stands tall as a courageous equal to Strange and Mordo. Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One, a Tibetan man in the comics, comes with controversy. Though the studio could have cast someone of Asian ethnicity, Swinton is ethereal and intense as the all-knowing sorcerer, boosting the film’s female presence. As Dr. Christine Palmer, Rachel McAdams is a great addition as a sort-of love interest for Strange who matches him in intelligence, but surpasses him in empathy. “Doctor Strange” promises to take the Marvel Cinematic Universe to new and exciting places. Be sure to stay for two post-credits scenes to see what else Marvel has up its sleeve. Rebecca Kivak considers herself representative of the average filmgoer. Her favorite films are “The Illusionist” and “The Avengers.”

Marvel Studios has taken audiences to to New York, Asgard, London and the depths of the galaxy. Now, the studio bends space and time to uncover new worlds in “Doctor Strange.” Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), an arrogant but brilliant neurosurgeon, suffers a terrible car crash, as his hands are badly injured. Unable to regain his operating abilities and incapable of being kinder to his girlfriend, surgeon Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), Strange ventures to Nepal to find Kamar-Taj, a compound where he may find a way to heal himself. He meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a Celtic woman who processes the knowledge of travel through other dimensions. Strange becomes an apprentice, and with the help of fellow student Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) he learns how to use the mystic arts in alignment with the body and the physical world. A former pupil, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), is drawing power from the Dark Dimension and is wreaking havoc on the compound and its outposts in charge of protecting the world from mystical harm. Strange’s goal becomes less about healing himself and more about saving mankind. “Doctor Strange” is introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in nearly the same way as “Iron Man.” There are shades of Tony Stark’s arrogance and brilliance seen in Strange, but the former surgeon has more conflicts with being a superhero. And like the Robert Downey Jr.-starring vehicle, the talent in this film is top notch. There are four Academy-recognized actors – Cumberbatch, Ejiofor, McAdams and Oscar winner Swinton – starring in a comic-book movie. This offers something for every moviegoer, from the cerebral viewer to the cineplex junkie. Of course there are comical elements that director Scott Derrickson sprinkles throughout the film, with most of it shared between Cumberbatch and Benedict Wong, who plays Kamar-Taj’s librarian Wong. “Doctor Strange” is MCU’s first multidimensional entry, with superpowers being drawn from the spiritual world. These new “powers,” referred to as spells, conjure up weapons, like Strange’s shields and the Ancient One’s fans, a nod to the martial arts. Portals into other places are created with their fingertips. And Cumberbatch is not simply waving his hands as he cast spells; those gestures are actual mudras he’s performing, continuing the movie’s theme of the body-spirit connection. In fact, the spirit also gets into the action with some “out-of-body experience” fighting. Derrickson, mostly known for horror movies like “Sinister” and “Deliver Us from Evil,” created a film that almost reaches the depths that “The Matrix” and “Inception” explored, but for a Marvel movie, his efforts are enough. What the movie benefits from most is its transformation away from the early versions of the comic. Gone are the “black magic” labels applied to the mystic arts and most of the characters reflect a more diverse world. While Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One has stirred up controversy, she exudes the characteristics and fighting style of someone who could lead many to protect the spiritual world. Adding Ejiofor, who previously starred in the jujitsu drama “Redbelt,” and Mikkelsen, a former James Bond villain and a trained dancer, to the mix was a push Marvel needed. Tamara Dunn is a T-shirt wearing cinephile. Her favorite movies are “The Battle of Algiers” and “Traffic.”

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