In the production of its most recent film, “Dr. Strange,” Marvel brings a new side of superheroes to life, one that goes beyond the classic confines of conventional superpowers to introduce themes of mysticism and the occult. In the tradition of superhero movies, “Dr. Strange” is action packed, fast paced and pushes the envelope of visual effects to make a fantastical and unreal world come to life.
While all Marvel movies may emphasize mesmerizing imagery and exciting battle choreography, to the point of cookie-cutting plots and sacrificing dialogue, “Dr. Strange” doesn’t quite fit the mold as closely as some of the previous installments. Superhero movies may be as Hollywood as it gets, but the film, along with Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as the titular character are distinguished with wittier lines, clever plot tricks and an eclectic musical score that give the audience more food for thought as it takes a surreal detour from Marvel’s usual path.
The concept of an astral body, different dimensions and the ability for the mind to heal the body are explored with “Dr. Strange,” replacing the conventional superpowers in previous installments. The movie’s depiction of these spiritual ideas is unfortunately shallow, as the thin layer of eastern-inspired practices covers up a lot of mystical mumbo-jumbo. That being said, the theme of humility and respect to a universal power is a repeating theme in the movie where egotistical Dr. Strange is humbled by its might, in a way that may allude back to eastern religious themes.
The movie starts by introducing Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a brilliant and dexterous neurosurgeon from New York who’s as arrogant as he is meticulous. The doctor’s life is suddenly met with tragedy when he is victim to a car accident that leaves him severely damaged in both his hands. With his surgical career hanging on the line, Strange desperately seeks a cure, eventually traveling to Kathmandu, Nepal, after hearing of a miraculous case where a man overcame paralysis in the mysterious, secret compound of Kamar-Taj. What he finds there he cannot fully accept.
When the mysterious overseer of the compound, the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), introduces Kamar-Taj as a magic academy, both audiences and Dr. Strange are skeptical of what to expect, only to be literally blown away by her demonstration of mystical ability. The producer’s decision to embrace the original story’s eastern notion of sorcery created the opportunity to depict vivid Kaleidoscopic scenes of morphing buildings and psychedelically changing landscapes, breathtakingly bewitching when watched on an 80-foot screen. In the compound, Dr. Strange is taught how to manipulate and distort reality, the power of teleportation and altering time, in scenes that are reminiscent of classic sci-fis like “The Matrix” and “Inception.”
Behind the whimsy and excitement of the wondrous powers, an evil is emerging that threatens Kamar-Taj and the whole world. Dr. Strange and the compound’s guardians, Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong) must defend humanity from the evil ex-student, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who seeks revenge on the Ancient One by opening a gate to the “Dark Dimension”.
Dr. Strange’s own past unfolds as his journey returns him to his home city of New York and the very hospital he used to perform in. He rekindles things with his former romantic partner, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) who desperately tries keeping him alive as Strange’s ghostly, astral body does dimensional battle with a dark sorcerer. The relationship between Strange and Christine develops throughout the course of the movie, as dynamically as the warping environments so expertly created through special effects.
The most important criteria for a good superhero flick is the wow factor of the battle scenes. The fighting sequences are less destructive than the usual arena-like melee duels of previous superhero movies, and more focused on disorienting and out-maneuvering the enemy. Dr. Strange may fight in or out of his body while the battlefield may jump from different corners of the Earth to different dimensions. Viewing the characters contest the streets of New York and Hong Kong to other dimensions was especially spellbinding up-close in theaters with an intense original soundtrack adding to our immersion.
This is certainly one movie worth seeing on a big-screen in theaters. The storyline was fast paced and engaging while the action was dazzling. Watching formulaic brawl scenes where opponents always use brawn can become very repetitive and tiresome, but “Dr. Strange” was a refreshing new breathe from Marvel’s predictable past.
Running Time: 115 minutes
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch-Stephen Strange & Dormammu
Rachel McAdams-Christine Palmer
Tilda Swinton-The Ancient One
Chiwetel Ejiofor-Karl Mordo
Music Composer: Michael Giacchino