Doctor Strange (2016)

Review #1,363

Director:  Scott Derrickson
Cast:  Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton
Plot:  A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts.

Genre:  Action / Adventure / Fantasy
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Visual Effects
Runtime:  115min
Rating:  PG13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence.
Distributor:  Walt Disney Studios

“I spent so many years peering through time... looking for you.”

It’s that time of the year for another Marvel film.  Doctor Strange should whet the appetite of fans and those in need of a good (but not great) Marvel fix.  Starring the suave-looking Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange, a remarkable neurosurgeon who loses his ability to control his fingers after a horrific car accident.  He seeks a healer in Nepal, and chances upon a sect of sorcerers headed by the Ancient One (a Tilda Swinton mired in the ‘whitewashing' storm-in-a-teacup, which I personally don’t really care). 

Doctor Strange is unabashedly an origins story, structured to be like one, taking nearly an hour to set up the titular character and the stakes that he will face.  When the action comes, it is no perfunctory spectacle.  I must say that it is one of Marvel’s most visually fascinating movies to date, dealing with how time, in its various manipulated manifestations (e.g. teleportation, slowing down of time, time loops, and spatial constructions of time), is the harbinger of death, but its endless possibilities also suggest that the holy grail of immortality can be attainable.

There’s a great cast with big names.  Cumberbatch embodies Dr. Strange well, and the supporting turns by Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen and Swinton are largely serviceable.  In some way, the performances are overshadowed by the visual effects, which is a confluence of conceptual imageries from Inception (2010) to The Matrix (1999), with aesthetical doses of Hellboy (2004). 

It certainly is a trippy affair, though narratively, it is nowhere near as mind-bending.  There are many instances of conversations that mull over the nature of time, but they, for better or worse, don’t take on a more deeply philosophical dimension.  The theme of science versus the mystic arts is also prominent and is the main psychological obstacle that Dr. Strange must face and reconcile in his (reluctant) journey to becoming a superhero. 

The director is Scott Derrickson, who largely dabbled in the horror genre with movies such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and Sinister (2012).  Interestingly, you will find elements normally associated with horror filmmaking in Doctor Strange—particularly in a sequence involving an operating room and McAdams’ character.  In sum, Derrickson’s work is worth seeing on the big screen, though it is not one (or two) of Marvel’s finest hours. 

Verdict:  One of Marvel’s most visually fascinating movies to date, but certainly not one (or two) of their finest hours.


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