MOVIE REVIEW: Marvel's Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange originated as a Marvel Comic character in 1963 and was a favourite of the college crowd early on because the character was super as a result of magic and mysticism rather than mutated genes or from another planet. My first exposure to Doctor Strange was in comics around 1971 and beyond, especially partnered with others in The Defenders such as The Incredible Hulk.

Superheros were all the rage in the 1970s in various media. Marvel and DC Comics had TV versions of their biggest properties. The Amazing Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman all ran on television as early as 1974 and beyond. Indeed CBS commissioned a version of Doctor Strange that aired as a two hour TV movie in 1978.

Alas, unlike its counterparts, Doctor Strange didn’t get picked up as a series by CBS but every decade after was picked up again by new Marvel talent for storylines in the comics. The idea for a movie bubbled up for many years but not till Marvel Entertainment under Disney’s umbrella come up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in 2008 where movie after movie would be linked starting first with Iron Man.

Scott Derickson (The day the Earth Stood Still) was chosen in 2004 based on his ability to write and direct and a script was hammered out with Jon Spaihts (Prometheus) coming in as co-writer. The shooting schedule was adjusted to accommodate Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) who emerged as the top candidate to play Strange.

The origin of Doctor Strange is what is journey was from being a hot-shot neurosurgeon desperately seeking treatment for his badly injured hands hurt to a sorcerer who has to look beyond his own selfish needs to protect the world. During his search he comes upon a man Jonathan Pangborm (Benjamin Bratt) who appears full recovered from injuries far worse than his own. Cryptically, Pangborn sends Strange to seek out the the Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu where he encounters Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who leads him to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).

Strange is dismissive of the mysticism until the Ancient One shows him that a whole new world on multi-dimensions exists that is reachable with incantations and sorcery. After being temporarily cast out, he embarks as a student of the mystical ways where he learns that a former pupil Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) threatens the world with the dark arts learned from stolen pages of a spellbook.

If the story sounds super complicated, it is made less so by the humourous interaction of Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong) who plays the librarian in the story. The only character who feels wasted is Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, a colleague and former lover.

The special effects and 3D are some of the best in the Marvel world and the action scenes some of the most intriguing. The Inception-like folding of the city of New York is jaw dropping. Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One is an excellent character although the re-imaging of her being of a Celtic background has been declared a “whitewash” by some critics who note the comic version was Asian.

The story doesn’t break new ground for superhero film but it is a strong outing in escapist fun covering a sub-genre of the Marvel universe. Cumberbatch is engaging and watchable throughout and the action and special effects are impressive. A best support Oscar should go to Doctor Strange’s very clever Cloak of Levitation.

As with all Marvel properties, there are mid and end credit scenes hinting at further adventures for Doctor Strange. Plus a final credit hinting at future enemies and their motivations. Don’t leave your seat till it is all over! Of particular note is a magical self-filling beer mug that will make you laugh.

This has been an editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations