Strange Days Indeed:) Dr. Strange: A Review

Posted: 11/07/2016 in Uncategorized

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Another title for my review could easily have been – “Benedict Cumberbatch Now Has A Marvel Franchise” but I’ve used that one before. Bringing Dr. Strange to screen is easily the most difficult process Marvel has had to undergo so far. Terms like trippy, psychedelic, bizarre and countless other adjectives just scratch the service of the lore behind this character. Created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Strange was just that, a character unlike any other, a brilliant, yet heartlessly arrogant neurosurgeon who after an accident damaging his hands becomes a “master of the mystic arts” and “sorcerer supreme”. Steve Ditko cites the works of Salvador Dali as inspiration for some of the dimensions he creates for Strange. So, how did Marvel do with this latest volley ? On to my review for further insight.

Cumberbatch is Stephen Strange. He brings a cold, cerebral brilliance to the role in his opening segments but humanizes him slightly with aspects of humor, namely an eidetic memory for musical history. His performing surgery while having his assistant program random songs on a playlist to test his knowledge worked perfectly. His interactions with ex-lover Christine Palmer (Rachael MacAdams) allow us a glimpse into a man who is not completely irredeemable – initially. His later response to her requesting he be her on call for emergencies is ably supported by the sequence in which he gains his injury, namely his being presented with potential fame building cases over the phone and eschewing various worthy ones including a tie in with the another film in the MCU.

Cumberbatch’s skill as an actor comes into play as he reels from and rails against the damage done to his hands. His pushing away Christine and the world at large takes him on his quest for healing; leading him to John Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt) who was paralyzed and somehow found a cure, restoring himself to full mobility. His arrival at Kamar-Taj in Khatmandu is fantastic. The moment he has his face to face with the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), the stage is set for a different style of Marvel movie, one in which the surreal encapsulated in Oriental Mysticism  provides a feast for the senses. Although the scene has been played thousands of times in promos, when the Ancient One essentially pushes Strange outside of his body, discharging his astral form it still plays exceedingly well. Strange is easily Marvel’s most visually ambitious film ever.

Swinton’s take on the Ancient One actually opens the film and in stellar fashion as she fights then pursues the films villain, Kaecillius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his acolytes. The sequences are mind-blowing-ly good, presenting the viewer with something new. Although the Harry Potter series has the magic market cornered, the world of Dr. Strange still manages to present something entirely fresh and innovative. Swinton’s portrayal is superb, serving equal parts wisdom, ruthless intelligence and general bad-assery with aplomb. Despite the “whitewashing” claims by many, her take on the Sorcerer Supreme is her own and it is good.

Mikkelsen brings forth a villain with incredible restrained fury and militaristic brilliance. He is focused, powerful and absolutely certain of his cause and belief. That his path takes us toward a far worse uber nemesis is not surprising. As a noteworthy villain of his own accord however Kaecillius succeeds. He is unquestionably a catalyst in establishing a philosophical divergence between Strange, the Ancient One and Mordo (Chiwetel  Ejiofor). Though some have criticized the film for not having fleshed out performances, I am inclined to disagree.

Of particular note is Ejiofor’s Mordo. This Mordo is a vast departure from the established lore in that he is presented as a force of good and adherent to rules and the natural order of things. He is a staunch ally to Strange and  his own path proves every bit as interesting as the good doctor’s. Benedict Wong who plays an equally altered version of the stalwart right hand of Strange. Wong  is more of a sobering voice of reason and foil in this version. The humorous moments between the two over library resources are genuinely quite funny and allow for a more playful depiction of both long time characters.

The visuals,best described as fantastical,  are world-building and separate this film from standard Marvel fare, prepping the way for the Phase IV foray of 2017.The notion of truly knowing someone is oft at the heart of most movie fare. In this case, Dr. Strange is no different. Strange applying his own critical intellect to determine the Ancient One “isn’t who you thinks she is” while discussing the imminent threat with Mordo leads to a schism of sorts that will yield an epic payoff in the films to come. I have a minor complaint about the reveal of the bigger bad coming too early along with the CGI depiction not matching the otherwise stellar visuals, but this is a very minor complaint. The actual main battle being fought in a bizarre, jarring locale as well as the lengths taken by Strange in order to win, demonstrate that he is well on his path to eventually becoming the “Sorcerer Supreme”. Mordo’s mantra of “a bill always coming due” resonates aptly throughout the film.

Cumberbatch eases himself into this unconventional role; making the transition from man of logic, science to mystical force of good. Even the presentation of his vestments occur organically and gradually, from his uniform, the “eye of Agamotto” and inevitably his cloak. It is all so seamless. End credits (two) strengthen the link with the MCU and the next run of marvel releases. With “Dr. Strange”, the writers and directors had one shot to get it right. They did so terrifically, ensuring that the Marvel Universe is about to become a lot ‘stranger’. “Dr. Strange” resonates, illuminates and dazzles, proving it is assuredly simply outstanding and well worth your time.

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