'Doctor Strange': A Magical and Familiar Trip
Marvel Studios continues to reign supreme in the world of superhero cinema with its newest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Doctor Strange.” Boasting trippy visuals and a dedication to both its weird magical origins, as well as the proven Marvel formula, “Doctor Strange” demonstrates that Marvel can be both wildly different and oddly familiar at the same time.
Benedict Cumberbatch is Dr. Stephen Strange, a brilliant and arrogant neurosurgeon. After a car crash leaves his hands with irreparable nerve damage, he seeks out any way to give him back his steady hands. His search brings him into contact with a mystical order lead by a mysterious immortal called the Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton. Strange’s perceptions are shattered as he brought into the world of magic, mysticism and extra-dimensional forces.
Ever since “Captain America: Civil War,” Marvel Studios seems to have committed to the idea that they need to shake-up their now very familiar superhero formula. “Doctor Strange” is the first film to attempt this new direction, and it succeeds in some areas while playing it safe in others.
The story of an arrogant and self-centered man learning to care about others and use his powers for good is the story of the very first “Iron Man” movie, right down to the goatee. While the plot is familiar, the movie is bolstered by likable characters and jokes that all tend to be on the right side of corny. As much as the movie tries to change things up, such as a lack of any real “love interest” for Strange to save or a rather clever twist on a “heroic sacrifice” ending, it still feels like a by-the-books Marvel movie. Like every Marvel movie, it manages to make up for its shortcomings with good writing, good acting and true-to-comic depictions of its titular character.
This is a movie that revels in its mixture of modern sensibilities with the complete weirdness that literal magic can conjure. Much like how the first “Captain America” steeped itself in its WW2 period and the “Thor” movies played its high fantasy aesthetic completely straight, “Doctor Strange” uses its “Eastern Mysticism” themes to grant its world a magical feeling without it also being the somewhat racist stereotype that the original comic based its themes on.
“Magical” is probably the best way to describe the movie’s major set piece moments, both in terms of visuals and commitment to the lawless nature of magic. In “Doctor Strange,” characters use magical spells and rituals to teleport anywhere instantly, fly through the air using magic sigils, wield ancient relics of deific power and bend the laws of physics as they travel to and from different parallel dimensions. All of its lets legendary visual effects studio Industrial Light & Magic stretch its visual muscles and melt its rendering computers.
Every magical effect is shown without a hint of irony, and the ways that magic can change the world is a feast for the eyes. One chase scene is themed around “space,” and is basically an urban chase scene if it took place inside of an M.C. Escher drawing. Another themed around “time,” demonstrates the non-linear nature of time in a magical world. This is one of the rare movies that definitely warrants a 3D viewing, if not an IMAX 3D viewing.
“Doctor Strange” promises and delivers a world not bound by the rules of realism or physics. While it may not deliver as much in the storytelling department, it’s a colorful and weird ride that is supported by good performances and great character moments.