Marvel Studios Casts Magic with ‘Doctor Strange’

“Doctor Strange” is an important movie for Marvel Studios for a number of reasons. Once again, we have a mostly unknown character in the Marvel pantheon. This film fully embraces and introduces magic into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, something that has been, for some reason, completely side-stepped in all the other films. Finally, after 8 years of connected storylines and unprecedented financial and critical success… can they really present a film that is different and compelling?

The answer to that question is a resounding yes!

Doctor Stephen Strange is a gifted successful neurosurgeon who loses everything when he has an epic car crash that destroys his hands and his career. When conventional science fails him he seeks answers in Nepal and finds a world beyond his imagination.

I’m going to take a stab here and guess that most people reading this have never picked up a comic with Doctor Strange. Even most ardent comic fans are mostly unacquainted with the Sorcerer Supreme. As someone who read old 60s Doctor Strange comics by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, who followed him in the 80s and 90s, and is reading the current run by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo, I can tell you that they have done a fantastic job of bringing this character and his world, to life.

Take a look at the psychedelic renderings of comic artist Steve Ditko. They have been lovingly recreated in this film. While “Doctor Strange” is a film that makes the most of the highest technological film developments to present the story, the origin of the ideas and look in this film began with pen and ink over 50 years ago.

Director Scott Derrickson deserves a great deal of credit for presenting often difficult to understand concepts or highly complex storytelling ideas in a way that is easily followed. He also takes more than a few opportunities to present some quiet gorgeous scenes that make the most of the time-shifting, magic, and exotic locations in the film.

Derrickson shares writing credits with Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill. Cargill is a frequent collaborator with Derrickson, but Spaihts is particularly interesting. Jon Spaihts has only one writing credit before 2012s “Prometheus” and is arguably the brains behind that film’s most interesting concepts.

The writing team threads the needle between giving us a standard easily-digested Marvel Studios superhero film and creating a tale with magic, multiple universes, optical illusions, time manipulation, and spirituality. The plot is not particularly complex, and the dialogue is standard, but the creativity that went into this story and into the action scenes are top notch.

When I heard that Benedict Cumberbatch was cast in the role of Doctor Strange I knew they had the perfect guy. Not only is he physically perfect for the role, he’s already proven that he can portray a brilliant egotistic asshole in a sympathetic way through the “Sherlock” television series. As it turns out he was even better than what I had anticipated.

Doctor Strange is a jerkface. Plain and simple. It takes a great actor to play a man like Stephen Strange at both his highest and lowest moments and keep the audience on his side. Cumberbatch convincingly demonstrates presence and a wide range of human emotion in this film. He’s perfect for the role.

The supporting cast is excellent. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, and Benedict Wong (as Wong, in an elevated position from the comics) are powerful allies. When things collapse for Doctor Strange we see how good Rachel McAdams is in one particular scene. And Mads Mikkelsen is an engaging villain, although somewhat underused, his scenes are great.

I know there was some controversy with Tilda Swinton winning the role of The Ancient One. Morgan Freeman, Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy were considered for the role. While some people were incensed that The Ancient One wasn’t Asian, can we at least give the creators some credit for giving the role to a woman? They made a fine casting choice.

Tilda Swinton, who is always androgynous and enigmatic, brought wisdom, mystery, and humor to the part. She was wonderful.

I saw this film at the Warren Theater in Moore Oklahoma at one of the largest IMAX screens in the world, in 3D. While I was watching “Doctor Strange” it struck me that this film is the reason we pay extra to see movies in such a setting. “Doctor Strange” is right up there with films like “Pacific Rim” and “Gravity” that are absolutely amazing when viewed in 3D. It’s stunning and immersive in a way that few films are.

“Doctor Strange” is a superhero film and the action scenes are exciting. There are more than a handful of set pieces and the filmmakers manage to make each scene different from the last. This is not a film that replays either previous scenes in the same movie, or action scenes from previous films, over and over again. It’s clever and expertly executed.

I think “Doctor Strange” will also achieve one more distinction because it’s so damn trippy. Back in the 60s people would get baked and go see “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and “Doctor Strange” goes far beyond anything visually in that film. If you want to know what is possible with modern CGI effects this film is a wild demonstration of how to create something otherworldly that still looks real. And you haven’t seen but a small portion of the weirdness in the trailers.

Yes, this is a superhero film in a series of superhero films and another origin story to boot. If you don’t like superhero films or an interconnected universe why have you read this far? In this genre of movies, “Doctor Strange” is one of the better movies, and one of the best that Marvel Studios has created.

Fans of superhero movies in general, people who enjoy bold popcorn movies, and people who like visually dynamic movies should find the biggest screen they can and pay extra to see “Doctor Strange” in 3D, if possible. You won’t be disappointed.