October 26, 2016
I have heard of Doctor Strange as a character in Marvel Comics long before. But honestly, I do not know anything about him at all. The hype surrounding his debut movie is incredibly overwhelming. The fact that Benedict Cumberbatch is the actor bringing him to life brought with it an additional prestige. Caught up in the hype, my sons and I watched it on the very first day of showing.
Dr. Stephen Strange is a first-rate neurosurgeon full of himself and his skills. One day an fateful accident stole these abilities from him. Conventional medical procedures and techniques could not restore him back to normal. From Jonathan Pangborn, a paraplegic who mysteriously regained his ability to walk, Strange learned about and sought out the secret shrine of Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu, Nepal. There, an ancient bald female Master known as the Ancient One trained Strange to open his mind to the infinite possibilities of alternate multiverses and harness their limitless energy and power.
Its mystical and spiritual backbone made this a complex and very talkative film. For us who do not know the comics, we never really comprehend everything they were talking about in the first go. The actors were just so engaging in their performances such that this made all the philosophical mumbo-jumbo somehow make full sense. I think a second watching could make the convoluted script more fully understood.
If the puzzling script felt a lot like Christopher Nolan's "Inception" (2010), so did a major part of the special effects we see in this film. The multi-dimensional distortion of the buildings as they folded over, tipped over, rolled around looked a lot like of those seen in that first mind-bending film. The characters here also jumped through space and time, only this time these jumps were marked by sparkly ring portals produced by their wills.
Benjamin Cumberbatch did cocky surgeon part so right and realistically with the arrogance and the narcissism. After the accident, he captured the devastation and the desperation. When he eventually transformed into his Doctor Strange persona, the effect was magical -- at first with his nifty goatee, then later completed with the emerald Eye of Agamotto pendant and the scarlet Cloak of Levitation. His comic timing also kept us entertained much.
Tilda Swinton took on the role of the Ancient One. The film version innovated the character to be a Celtic woman, thought the role originally written as a Tibetan man in the comics. This was not really too much of a stretch for this talented actress known for her androgynous look. She radiated a calm aura as a mystic master would, even when she was in battle action mode -- too cool. Her look and demeanor actually reminded me of Aang, the mystical hero of the animated TV series "Avatar: The Last Airbender".
Rachel McAdams played ER physician Dr. Christine Palmer, a romantic interest for Dr. Strange, who also served to anchor him in reality. She was delightful in her scenes when her character first met the astral Dr. Strange. In the comics, Dr. Strange's lover was his silver-haired disciple Clea. I wonder if this character will ever show up in future sequels.
Chiwetel Ejiofor was able to add further ambiguous depth into the character of Karl Mordo, a loyal disciple of the Ancient One whose realizations about his master led to his own change of heart. Benedict Wong played the gruff librarian Wong, a stereotype Asian character played mostly for comic effect. Mads Mikkelsen played the main antagonist Kaecilius, another disciple who broke off from the Ancient One to create his own sect of a darker, more violent persuasion. His elaborate eye makeup made sure we remember that. It was good to see Benjamin Bratt again, albeit in a smaller role as Jonathan Pangborn.
A lot of this film was spent on the origin of Doctor Strange so it may feel so didactic at times. Now that his character had been built up, there should be more action in future installments. The first extra scene mid-credits is very exciting as it featured Strange's collaboration with an Avenger. The second extra scene after all the credits had rolled gave us further clues as to how another character would develop.
However, because of its Oscar-caliber British cast and dizzying array of CGI visuals, this film was always engaging and entertaining, successfully setting up a franchise for a new superhero. For me, the medical and surgical aspects of the character were a big plus. (Dr. Strange uses the same OR gown as our hospital!). Writer-Director Scott Derrickson had effectively transitioned from his B-horror films ("The Exorcism of Emily Rose," "Sinister") into the big league. 9/10.