Doctor Strange (film review by Frank Ochieng)

All continues to be well in the Marvel Comics Universe as the film adaptation of another mischievous and majestic superhero from Stan Lee’s printed page empire emerges and reigns supreme on the big screen. The latest cure from the Marvel movie bag of explosive tricks is the entry of the dazzling and decorative ‘Doctor Strange’. Armed with a collection of notable performers, a convincing colorful scope of visual vibrancy and a hearty touch of spiritual and reflective potency the spellbinding ‘Doctor Strange’ is an engaging and oddly sophisticated action-oriented comic book fantasy adding imaginative flavour to the typical escapist gem from the Marvel stable of powered personalities.


Some may argue that ‘Doctor Strange’ is merely another conveyor belt cinematic comics confection that follows a safe and similar make-up that constitutes the obligatory Marvel Comics movie foundation – excitable weirdness, overly splashes of wayward whimsy, copious characterizations attached to their brand of eccentric grandeur and larger-than-life gestures of dark and devious exploits grounded in the basic landscape of good versus evil. Listen, sometimes traveling down the conventional path of constructed and adventurous Marvel-made spectacles is not necessarily a bad thing to consider. After all, the well-known and more popular superhero icons such as Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, The Avengers and The X-Men, for instance, seem to benefit nicely from the anticipated formula that routinely delivers the entertaining goods for its avid core of fanboys. So why not wipe off the seemingly obscure and under-rated ‘Doctor Strange’ and provide the same kind of popcorn-pulsating mystique for blockbuster cinema?

‘Doctor Strange’ started out as a comicbook creation in 1963 by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. Director Scott Derrickson (‘Paradise Lost’, ‘The Exorcism Of Emily Rose’, ‘Sinister’, ‘Deliver Us From Evil’) does an admirable job in giving shades of bizarre brilliance and magical manipulation to an unconventional Marvel comicbook character hardly known for his capacity to translate his mystical mastery to celluloid with compelling curiosity. Derrickson, known primarily for his creative juices in the realm of horror fantasies, confidently serves up the off-kilter and hypnotic appeal of Dr. Stephen Strange as embodied by accomplished English actor Benedict Cumberbatch (‘Black Mass’, ‘The Imitation Game’, ’12 Years A Slave’). Interestingly, Derrickson and his handful of screenwriters craft ‘Doctor Strange’ with a mind-blowing measurement of restraint and inquisitiveness. Indeed, ‘Doctor Strange’ echoes its contemporary Marvel-established movies with predictable pluckiness to a certain extent but what is appreciated more is the uniqueness of the film’s ability to emphasize a cerebral super-hero that is cut out of a different kind of creative cloth which feels quite distinctive from other brooding Marvel mavericks. Cumberbatch, mastering a rather effective American-accented sorcerer with skill, has injected a degree of inventive nobility and refinement that uplifts this calculating comicbook fantasy.

Cumberbatch’s egotistical Stephen Strange is an incredibly gifted neurosurgeon. His hands are truly miraculous tools of his medical trade and he takes pride in his abilities to treat the critical patients that have tremendous hope courtesy of his therapeutic capabilities. In a nutshell, Strange outshines his other surgical competitors because he is able to give to his patients on the operating table something other doctors cannot instantly muster up. However, cruel fate strikes its ugly head when Strange suffers the usage of his precious hands as a result of a horrific car wreck. The nerves in his hands are destroyed and the non-functioning of his limbs is an awful reminder that his surgical talents are something of the immediate past.

Doctoring the supernatural elements in STRANGE is yet another winning outing for the Marvel Comics movie-making machine
Doctoring the supernatural elements in STRANGE is yet another winning outing for the Marvel Comics movie-making machine

As Strange delves into self-pity and surfacing depression, he cannot see just how supportive his fellow physician Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdam) is toward him. Clearly, Christine is in love with the alienating medical moper but Strange simply does not realise the extent of her affections because he is too busy sulking about his misfortune. The only factor that gets a promising rise out of Strange is his recent acknowledgement of the Tibetan community where there is a Kamar-Taj temple rumored to restore ailing body parts destined to make an individual ‘whole’ and ‘complete’ once again. Naturally, Strange wants to bypass the tedious and lengthy therapy sessions for a chance to experience the miracle of his once-amazing operating digits now ravaged by severe nerve damage.

The main source behind the Kamar-Taj temple’s heralded existence is The Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton). She is instrumental in teaching the fundamentals of a selected Eastern mysticism that teaches the special concentration of healing the wounded and wasting human body when scientific medical practices fail to do so. Soon, Strange’s affiliation with The Ancient One and her mystical minions has more than a transfixing effect on gaining control of his ailing hands as he gains indescribable powers through the inner strength of mind and soul. Now, Dr. Strange can generate his own alternating state of philosophical wizardry that dictates shaping time and space dimensions. Strange’s out-of-body experiences supersede all his previous physical impairments as a force to be reckoned with at large. Whether observing Strange’s Cloak of Levitation methods or witnessing his supernatural prowess on the mean streets against wickedness ‘Doctor Strange’ spins a wild and weird web of action-packed surrealism that is a welcomed addition to Marvel Comics’ showcasing of super-heroic protective cads feisty in flaws and frivolity.

Benedict Cumberbatch does not seem all that STRANGE as the gifted physician searching for inner strength and peace of mind in this latest Marvel popcorn pleaser
Benedict Cumberbatch does not seem all that STRANGE as the gifted physician searching for inner strength and peace of mind in this latest Marvel popcorn pleaser

Cumberbatch is mesmerising as the self-absorbed genius Doctor Strange, who perhaps is the best complex Marvel-related protagonist since Robert Downey Jr.’s flippant Tony Stark/Iron Man. The combination of heightened arrogance and high-brow self-doubt and vulnerability tactically works as Cumberbatch sells this portrayal solidly. Although Swinton’s The Ancient One is an intriguing enigma in her own right, one must question why the absence of an Asian actor not considered for this particular role may have some scratching their heads in indignation? McAdam’s love interest, Christine, amounts to only being an afterthought, not just in the eyes of her object of affection Strange, but to the audience as well.

Thankfully, the other supporting players contribute marvelously to the festivities. Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (Cumberbatch’s co-star from the Academy Award-winning ’12 Years A Slave'”) plays fellow sorcerer Mordo while Benedict Wong assumes the duty as another one of The Ancient One’s followers who guards the school’s sacred scriptures. Mads Mikkelsen is devilishly received as Kaecilius, the former disciple of The Ancient One gone rogue, whose agenda in releasing an ominous demon Dormammu to the world will test the will of Doctor Strange’s newfound mystical techniques and tactics.

No doubt that ‘Doctor Strange’ is an impeccably surging super-hero fable laced with stunning aesthetics and a richly robust score by Michael Giachinno. The high calibre of talent associated with this spry comicbook actioner definitely ensures another super-hero film franchise-in-the-making as Cumberbatch’s introspective doc administers his ‘Strange’ dosage of Marvel movie-making medicine for the ages.

Doctor Strange (2016)

Walt Disney Pictures

2 hrs. 10 mins.

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdam, Benedict Wong and Benjamin Bratt

Directed by: Scott Derrickson

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy/Action & Adventures/Comic Book Fable

Critic’s rating: *** 1/2 (out of 4 stars)

(c) Frank Ochieng 2016

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