The Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps expanding, and this time it’s occupying universes beyond our own. Doctor Strange, arguably the most mystical of Stan Lee’s creations, is a neurosurgeon-turned-sorcerer who, you guessed it, goes on to save the world. Other elements like multiverse theory, dark magic and the mystical arts are thrown in there without enough time to be explained, but who cares because New York City literally gets folded in on itself and Benedict Cumberbatch can fly.
Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is an egotistical neurosurgeon who loses everything when a car accident robs him of the use of his hands. In an effort to find a cure that will let him operate again, Strange abandons western medicine and heads to Kamar-Taj in Nepal, where he studies the mystic arts and alternate dimensions under the guidance of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Strange is enlisted to help other sorcerers protect Earth against threats from rogue sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who attempts to summon Dormammu of the Dark Dimension in an effort to broaden his powers.
Watching “Doctor Strange” is nothing short of having a hallucinogenic trip. It is visually stunning and makes excellent use of 3D, which feels less like a gimmick and more like a vital part of experiencing the film as it’s supposed to be.
Cumberbatch is brilliant as the titular character, incorporating a real darkness and desperation to Strange in a way that differentiates him from Marvel’s familiar Tony Stark-esque arrogance that we’re already familiar with. That’s a trait of the film as a whole: It feels comfortable being back in the MCU, but at the same time, it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen from it before. The richness of the mystical arts and newness of this faction of the MCU keeps “Strange” from being hindered by its overly simplistic plot. There’s nothing innovative about a good guy standing up to a more powerful bad guy, but the depth of the mythology saves it from feeling boring.
All that being said, there is still a lack of why this whole thing matters. We all know that Marvel is gearing up for its “Avengers: Infinity War” in 2018, but they ultimately fail at walking the line between setting up Doctor Strange to appear in that film while still introducing the character as his own entity. The extensive mythology behind Doctor Strange’s origins makes it hard to do both in one film. (The casual inclusion of, hey, he’s been wearing an Infinity Stone around his neck this entire time undermines the importance of his role in the impending “Infinity Wars.”)
While Cumberbatch and Rachel McAdams (as a fellow surgeon) mesh well together on screen, once again, a woman is relegated to the role of female companion stuck in a constant state of disbelief. Do better, Marvel.
Whether or not you’re a Marvel fan, “Doctor Strange” is worth a watch, if only for the cinematic experience.
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Michael Stuhlbarg.
Director: Scott Derrickson.
Screenwriters: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill.
A Marvel Studios release. Running time: 115 minutes. Comic-book violence and action. Playing at area theaters.