Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Dr. Stephen Strange, an arrogant surgeon who suffers a horrible car accident. During a lengthy and mostly unsuccessful rehabilitation, Strange becomes increasingly bitter and haunted by the realization that his hands will never heal. After alienating everyone in his life, including his colleague and sometime lover (played by Rachel McAdams), Strange travels across the globe to find an alternate cure. What he discovers not only heals his body but alters the course of space and time.
Easily the first movie to boast having a song by Pink Floyd and Beyonce Knowles on the same soundtrack, Doctor Strange ultimately succeeds in being a different kind of origin comic book story for Marvel Studios. But it’s nonetheless overly familiar and makes some questionable choices.
The first act is unsteady, as the jokes are initially limp and the familiar qualities of the material are in plain view. Although based on a comic book first published in 1963, the influence of The Matrix and Inception are all over this movie. There’s a chaotic action scene that opens the film, but the introductory hospital scenes and segments of Strange’s gruesome recovery draw us in even more. Once we get to the fantastic reveals, the film entices us with robust CGI and droll humor. Still, not everything works.
Cumberbatch’s pretty good but not spotless American accent takes some getting used to. He sounds like Alan Rickman in that one scene in Die Hard where Hans Gruber fooled John McLane into thinking he was a hostage. I kept thinking Cumberbatch would have been better off using his normal manner of speaking.
McAdams’ character and performance start strong, until her role becomes strictly reactionary and mostly an afterthought in the last stretch. Mads Mikkelsen is always an imposing and intriguing villain in any movie but here, his character is just vague.
The casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One resulted in early controversy, with many citing her appearance as yet another example of whitewashing a character who was Asian in the source material. While the multi-cultural cast is a clear attempt to avoid stereotypes, Swinton is completely ridiculous in the role. The Michael Clayton Oscar winner appears as bald, white-attired guru with an eerie smile. The role cries out for someone with a magnetic, soulful touch; the chilly, stylish Swinton is about as suited for the role as Judi Dench would have been.
Doctor Strange goes way over the gobble-de-gook dialogue quota, even for a movie like this, and can’t overcome how ridiculous it all is. When you’ve got ghost battles in a hospital room and Swinton’s kung fu Sinead O’Conner in the same movie, it’s obvious the filmmakers aren’t worried about the camp-factor.
Thankfully, it mostly comes together in the second act. Cumberbatch’s Strange is sympathetic and compelling but the character doesn’t fully endear us until he dons his trademark cape (itself an enjoyable character).
Once the kaleidoscopic visuals and elaborate fight scenes kick in, this becomes a groovy, anything-goes action movie. Michael Giacchino’s robust music score and the eye-popping, overwhelmingly cool visual effects (the best of which create hidden dimensions and galaxies) make this an essential experience for the big screen. The best way I could describe the spectacle of Strange floating through the cosmos is Ken Russell meets Douglas Trumbull, with a dash of Lewis Carroll. If your response is a throaty, “Trippy, man,” then this is your movie.
I saw Doctor Strange on the same day I attended Maui’s first ever Comic Con. There were multitudes of costumed, visibly delighted fans of various genres present. This movie, which is unashamedly goofy and offers swirls of robust, fantastic visuals, should dazzle its intended audience. I prefer the refreshingly satirical Deadpool but this is still one of the year’s strongest comic book movies.