Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a gifted neurosurgeon who is involved in a serious car accident that damages both his hands. Unable to work as a result of his injuries, he researches the cutting edge of medicine for a treatment. When he exhausts these possibilities, he is led to Katmandu; he has heard rumours about a place where the powers of the mind can be used to overcome physical damage. What he finds instead, is a universe of talismans, beings and powers beyond his scientific understanding of the world.
Strange is an egotistical surgeon who loves to flaunt his amazing skills. He attempts neurosurgery that others would consider too difficult and he never tires of proving himself the cleverest man in the operating theatre. He works with fellow surgeon Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams); they had a romantic relationship at one point, but that has cooled. People and relationships are somewhat beneath him. Strange’s ego and intellect are what drive him. His journey to Katmandu takes him to a teacher known as The Ancient One. He discovers his previous knowledge is useless to him. His giant ego is an obstacle.
DOCTOR STRANGE is the latest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and although all things are connected in the MCU (as in the actual Universe, fellow AccessReelers) this is an origin story for a character as yet unknown to moviegoers. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange will no doubt remind many of television’s Dr Gregory House, but movie Strange is based on a Steve Ditko character created in 1963. He was invented to find mystical and magic powers beyond the science-fiction worlds of other Marvel characters. Ditko used Strange as a way to tell stories that involved the cosmology of ancient societies such as Egypt and Sumeria. Similarly, movie Strange brings straight-up magic into the MCU, where despite the existence of gods like Thor and family, most things up until now, have a science-fiction-y explanation.
Director Scott Derrickson does a bang up job bringing this huge production to life. Benedict Cumberbatch is well versed in playing real geniuses (Alan Turing in THE IMITATION GAME) and fictional ones like Sherlock Holmes, so Stephen Strange is absolutely in his wheelhouse. Rachel McAdams is under-used, but her abilities with drama and light comedy are a welcome addition to the mix. Tilda Swinton is terrific as The Ancient One. Chiwetel Ejiofor is solid as Karl Mordo, a student of the Ancient One. He plays one of the more complex characters in this world. Benedict Wong brings his usual likeability to the role of mystic master Wong. One hopes a sequel can add a third Benedict to the cast. Mads Mikkelsen plays the villain, and through no fault of his own, disappears into the “generic bad guy” fog that afflicts many an excellent actor who ends up in the villain role in a super hero film.
Doctor Strange of the comics was popular with the college crowd of the ‘sixties and ‘seventies because of the psychedelic multi-dimensional Universe he revealed. This has been beautifully rendered in movie terms by the Marvel team. The visuals are outstanding and beautiful and, at times, witty. The screenplay has more humour than one might expect, including some nice slapstick in some of the fight scenes. The action is very good, but it doesn’t raise the bar we expect from Marvel. The resolution of the tale, however, is excellent and a clever reworking of the imminent-destruction-of-everything formula.
Speaking of formulas, some may find the plot of Doctor Strange owes too much to the influence of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth concept. However, I found this an entertaining 115 minutes of spectacular visuals, engaging performances and slick storytelling. A fun night at the pictures, folks.
DOCTOR STRANGE is in wide release in Australian cinemas. (8/10)