Nutshell: Cumberbatch is 100% in as Doctor Stephen Strange. And director Scott Derrickson sure knows how to twist and turn a set to his advantage. (Literally.) Come for the breathtaking acid-trip visuals, amazing fight choreography, and performances by a stellar cast. Ignore the wobbly bits in the plot; Strange is origin story, not “tell me a story.” BTW, I want the hilariously cheeky Cloak of Levitation as my BFF. Grade: A-
“The bill comes due. Always.”
Story: Renowned neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange is a dick. An incredibly talented dick, but a dick nonetheless. So when his hands get smashed beyond repair in a car accident, he and his gigantic ego search the ends of the earth to find a cure. He thinks he’s found one at Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu, Nepal, but these mystics are a bit more…multi-dimensional. Will Strange get over his cheap self and become Sorcerer Supreme? Uh…
Genre I’d put it in: Good Looking Magic Men in the MCU
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Orignal: Based on the Marvel character created by Steve Ditko. Really, REALLY based on Ditko, right down to the black-light, pop-art, acid trippy set design.
Gotta say: DEEEEAM. There’s eye candy all up in this joint y’all. Seriously; I have a feeling that whether you’re playing a good guy or a bad guy, you’ll need to be easy on the eye to get notice in the MCU. And while looking at Benedict Cumberbatch, Mads Mikkelsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Benjamin Bratt is always a good time, it sure helps that they’re all amazing actors. And they deliver here. Part of that is because they’re so damn talented, but another is thanks to a script that remembers to deliver just enough character development and backstory to give viewers an understanding if why they’re doing what they do.
Not that the script is without its faults. While there’s plenty of origin tale here – and it’s a really good one – the “bad guy comin’ to end things” trope is one we’ve seen again and again (AND AGAIN) in comic book movies. Hell, in just about every movie. In Strange, a few scenes feel almost padded, as if they were stretching out the film before the ultimate showdown. But at least there’s plenty of quips between characters, and the trademark tongue-in-cheek joy of it all, to enjoy.
Writer/director Derrickson was a good call to helm this pic. His ability to take a story and mythos that’s way out for even the MCU and keep things grounded and understandable is fantastic. And while I do have a quibble or two (small ones) with a wobbly bit of scripting here and there, I’m betting that’s more on the shoulders of Jon Spaihts, whose Prometheus was interesting, but muddled. As Spaihts is listed first over at IMDb, I’m guessing Derrickson, as well as C. Robert Cargill (Sinster) were clean-up crew.
And let’s give a tip-of-the-cape to Charles Wood, Ray Chan, John Bush Alexandra Byrne. They knocked it out of the park with their production design, art direction, set decoration, and costuming. Not to mention Ben Davis’s excellent cinematography; I’m sure his talents were stretched to the limit in this film, with its peeks at real life as well as other realms. But he managed to keep everything clear, gorgeous, and believable. Seriously. Standing ovations to all.
One last thing; the whole “whitewashing” hullabaloo. As a hapa chick, I get the unrest. But I’ll give Doctor Strange‘s casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One a pass for two reasons. One, because the film lays out the idea that there have been MANY Ancient Ones, and she is just one of a long line. (They even point out that she’s Celtic.) Two, because Tilda Swinton is about as malleable and androgynous as any human being on the planet. Swinton could be anything and everything, and I’d buy that shit. In the multicultural halls of this particular Kamar-Taj, it’s completely believable that as people come and go, anyone could assume any mantle. So that’s my two cents on that. I still have extreme misgivings about Ghost in the Shell and The Great Wall, but I’m equally disgusted, and eager to be proven misguided, by both of these upcoming films. Guess we’ll see.
So? If you’re down with the MCU, you know you’ll be headed to this. And you should be headed to this, MCU fan or no. Doctor Strange a great look at the outer realms of the Marvel Multiverse. Plus, I’m betting it’ll help you process a few of the other MCU offerings coming down the pike. I’ve said too much…
#Protip: Stay all the way through the credits. There’s the usual mid-credits bonus, but the finale scene is worth waiting for as well.