Read our review for Marvel’s ‘Doctor Strange’ out in theaters on Friday…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
At this point it appears Marvel can do no wrong.
Marvel Studios — the company who seemingly invented the superhero crossover when it comes to movies — has launched by far the most successful franchise of films in the comic book genre over the past decade and it doesn’t appear they are slowing down any time soon.
The latest effort plunges viewers into the world of magic and mysticism courtesy of ‘Doctor Strange’ starring Benedict Cumberbatch in a pitch perfect role for the British thespian as he becomes the latest in a long line of casting coups for the company.
It’s tough to say if ‘Doctor Strange’ falls into the same category as ‘Ant-Man’ or ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ — you know, ‘B’ level superheroes that Marvel somehow transforms into ‘A’ list movies — because Dr. Stephen Strange has been a mainstay of major comic book stories for more than 50 years.
Still, Doctor Strange as a character certainly doesn’t get the same kind of attention as Spider-Man or Captain America and a great many comic book readers tuned out on him as a solo star considering his series was cancelled and he remained on the sidelines mostly used in other books like The Avengers titles at Marvel.
Still, Kevin Feige — the mastermind studio head behind Marvel’s Cinematic Universe — took a shot on turning ‘Doctor Strange’ into a big budget movie while introducing the magical world to the viewing audience for the first time.
What resulted was one part ‘Harry Potter’ and 10 parts ‘Inception’ and every last bit of it was outstanding.
Dr. Stephen Strange is as brilliant as he is egotistical as one of the best neurosurgeons in the world — because he definitely knows it. Charming as ever while saving a patient’s life, Strange is also consumed by his own prowess, often times turning down consults if the case doesn’t seem challenging enough or worth his time to pursue.
Strange’s self-obsession cost him a relationship with Dr. Christine Palmer — an ER doctor who thinks saving one life is just as important as saving thousands — because he thinks a great date is inviting her to a conference where he’s going to speak.
Sadly, Strange’s life is turned upside down — quite literally — when he gets caught texting and driving and rolls his Lamborghini in a horrific car crash. The result of the accident leaves Strange with a battered body and nerve damaged hands that will never operate on a patient again. Without his work, Strange is lost and he looks into every possible cure but nothing works until he finally tracks down a group in Nepal that has reportedly helped at least one man walk again who had no business taking a single step after his vertebrae was severed.
That’s where Strange meets The Ancient One — a mystical being who controls magic the way that he used to control a scalpel — and her answers to his questions don’t come with science but rather mysticism. While Strange is mostly concerned with healing his own hands, the Ancient One and her top student Mordo are more worried about a rebellious sorcerer named Kaecilius, who has made off with a secret text that could bring about the end of the world as we know it.
Marvel’s casting department deserves an award for always finding the perfect actor or actress to fill a lead role. There were those that questioned Paul Rudd playing a hero, but now could you even imagine anybody else as Ant-Man? Of course there’s the obvious choices like Robert Downey Jr. playing Iron Man or Chris Evans as the star-spangled Captain America — both of which were spot on casting choices.
For ‘Doctor Strange’, Marvel is still batting a thousand after casting Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role. With his British accent replaced by an American one, Cumberbatch plays cocky and arrogant as well as he plays stunned and surprised before eventually transforming into charming and powerful. Cumberbatch is certainly a high level actor so there’s no mystery why he’s good at what he does, but taking on a superhero role is never an easy task — just ask Ben Affleck about that one — but he does so with flawless execution while bringing Doctor Strange to life for the first time on the big screen.
The supporting cast is just as wonderful with Chiwetel Ejiofor playing Modor as well as Mads Mikkelsen taking a turn as Strange’s main rival in the film. Of course there was some controversy about casting Tilda Swinton in the role as The Ancient One but she does manage to pull off the part with power and grace.
Directing and Writing
‘Doctor Strange’ is largely an origin story so it would be easy to get lost in the creation of the character while forgetting about what’s happening around him, but that’s not the case with this film and that credit largely goes to director Scott Derrickson, who also had a hand in writing the script.
Derrickson is best known for his work in horror films like ‘Sinister’ and ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’ but he quickly jumps into the deep end of the Marvel pond while being tasked with the job of introducing the magical side of the comic book universe to movie going audiences for the first time. He executes this task with outstanding effects and mind bending, topsy-turvy twists that might have your head spinning in the best way possible.
Something tells me after this film debuts, Derrickson is going to have his pick of jobs going forward.
What’s Wrong with the Movie?
It’s such a minor complaint but if there’s one area where Marvel falls behind in films versus the outstanding work the studio has done on Netflix series like ‘Daredevil’ or ‘Jessica Jones’, it’s creating a credible villain.
Outside of Loki, who has been the best bad guy Marvel has created for the big screen, most of the other villains in the films have been largely forgettable. Now that’s easily overlooked when considering the end result but outside of Loki, the most memorable villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has either been Captain America or Iron Man, depending on which team you sided with during ‘Captain America: Civil War’.
Hopefully Marvel will figure out a way to turn the mad Titan Thanos into the villain we’ve all been waiting for, but chances are you’ll largely tune out Doctor Strange’s main antagonist within a few days of seeing the film. Considering the movie is mostly built as an introduction to Doctor Strange while beginning to incorporate him into the larger Marvel Universe, the bad guy he goes up against is rather inconsequential anyways.
Still if there’s one problem — and ‘Doctor Strange’ isn’t alone in this — it’s Marvel’s inability to make a truly detestable bad guy. That’s one lesson the film team could learn from the TV side when looking at the multi-faceted and multi-layered performances from actors like Vincent D’Onofrio as Kingpin in ‘Daredevil’ or David Tennant’s brilliantly twisted Kilgrave in ‘Jessica Jones’.
Of course it helps having 13 hours to develop a villain versus two hours in the movies.
Growing up as a comic book reader, I didn’t care to explore Doctor Strange as a character and I certainly didn’t have an affinity for the him in any of the other appearances he made throughout the Marvel Universe. But somehow, the film version of ‘Doctor Strange’ not only made me enjoy watching his back story but now he feels like an integral part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, who will likely play a major role in the upcoming “Infinity War” that will see every hero team up to stop Thanos from tearing apart the universe.
‘Doctor Strange’ may not be the best Marvel movie overall — but for an origin story, this one ranks right up there with ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ as a top notch movie going experience.
‘Doctor Strange’ gets four out of five on the Skolnick Scale.