When the first DOCTOR STRANGE trailer dropped back in July, I was a little apprehensive about it. At first, I felt that this would be a part of the Marvel universe that I would have trouble understanding. I reached that conclusion at the end of that first trailer, and seeing Doctor Strange stand in the middle of a dimensionally disjointed (although admittedly cool-looking) New York City. Not being a comic book reader by any means, two things were going through my head; first, that I mostly have no idea who Doctor Strange is, and second, that his aspect of the Marvel universe would be something I wouldn’t quite grasp. Regardless of all of that, though, I knew that I would still see DOCTOR STRANGE, as there’s no way that I’d ever doubt any Marvel Studios offering – they’re not necessarily batting 1.000 right now with their previous offerings, but that studio has built some much equity (our favorite word on FORCED PERSPECTIVE) with me that I’ll see anything they put out, no matter how underwhelmed about it that I initially feel. After attending a Thursday night screening of DOCTOR STRANGE, I can safely say that my fears were put to rest, and once again, Marvel Studios hits one out of the park!
To summarize the plot in a nutshell for you – Dr. Stephen Strange (played exceptionally by Benedict Cumberbatch) is a world-famous surgeon in New York City. And as such, he has a pretty big ego about it that turns off his co-workers. When a car accident permanently injures his hands, his surgeon days are over. Desperate to find a cure, he enlists every possible procedure – both experimental and expensive – in order to return to his former life. When Western medicine fails him, he completely shuts down and gives up all hope, much to the dismay of his co-worker/friend/former flame Christine Palmer (played by Rachel McAdams). However, after discovering the case of a paraplegic that – despite his diagnosis – learned to walk again, Strange travels to Nepal to discover the source of this seemingly too-good-to-be-true healing power. What he does find is the monastery of The Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton), who opens his eyes to a world that he never thought existed.
For casual moviegoers who might have the same fears about this film that I initially did, allow me to assuage you – at no point during this film did I feel confused or not understand what was going on. Director Scott Derrickson (who also co-wrote the screenplay with C. Robert Cargill) and producer Kevin Feige really did a tremendous job in being able to illustrate the (rather-complicated) world of Doctor Strange in a way that the non-comic reading casual audience member could still follow its main narrative (which involved the origin of Doctor Strange and his battle with a rogue student of The Ancient One, Kaecilius (played by Mads Mikkelsen). And I personally think that this is where the biggest strength of the film lies; for the most part, the recent Marvel films (particularly the CAPTAIN AMERICA series) have been grounded in reality, which allow them to effectively serve as both superhero film and political thriller. With DOCTOR STRANGE, Marvel really dives headfirst into the fantasy/sci-fi world, which they really haven’t done since THOR and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. But the way that the filmmakers handled the source material, putting their own twist on it, and still making it easy to follow for casuals will give DOCTOR STRANGE more eyeballs in the coming days and weeks.
On the acting side of things – Benedict Cumberbatch was 100% the perfect choice for the titular role. He embodies the arrogance of the former surgeon, while also displaying a stunning vulnerability that, despite his ego, allows the audience to still sympathize and root for him on his hero’s journey. Much like Robert Downey Jr.’s incredible performance in the first IRON MAN film, Cumberbatch takes an already great film and makes it even better. I also appreciated how the character of Stephen Strange wasn’t written like a Tony Stark clone, but rather as a completely unique character that, with similar traits, still stands on his own. Honorable mentions here go to Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, who commanded the screen with her presence every single time, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo. While I am a fan of both Mads Mikkelsen and Rachel McAdams, they didn’t do anything particular special with their performances as Kaecilius and Christine Palmer, respectively, but they still served their supporting roles well.
For anyone thinking otherwise, I have to be clear about this – you MUST see this film in 3D; IMAX 3D if available to you, but 3D nonetheless. This is one of those films whose narrative and overall universe perfectly lends itself to 3D. And I have to say, the 3D in this film is spectacular! The matter-changing, universe bending, cosmic power scenes (which there are quite a few of in this film) come to life in glorious 3D in a way that completely enhanced the quality of the film. The scene from the end of the first trailer that I mentioned above – where New York City is shape-shifted into a skyscraper-like Rubik’s cube – is an absolutely awe-inducing experience to behold in 3D. This, in turn, is all due to the fantastic special effects work on display here. In a time where CGI has become a staple of many Hollywood films, not once did the special effects look fake or gimmicky, but rather, polished and amazing. Spend the extra money and see it in 3D – you’ll thank me later (P.S. not recommended for those prone to motion sickness; just had to put that out there).
Overall, DOCTOR STRANGE delivers on all cylinders. It has an exciting narrative, a versatile actor in the lead role, surrounded by a top-notch supporting cast, and jaw-dropping visuals that will make you want to visit this universe again…and again…and again. Add this film to Marvel Studios’ already-long list of great films, continuing to prove that they know how to do a shared universe correctly (looking at you, DC). Personally, along with CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, DOCTOR STRANGE is one of my favorite films of 2016, and I look forward to revisiting this film again. And for those still having doubts about seeing it, I’m here to bargain – actually, more like demand – JUST SEE IT ALREADY! Highly recommended.