“Doctor Strange” Movie Review


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     The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to prove its might with new character origin stories introduced seamlessly into the existing storylines without so much as a single plot hole or narrative flaw.  With the MCU thriving as such a well oiled cinematic machine, it's no surprise their latest entry, "Doctor Strange", plays like a film created by filmmakers who have done this before and as a result have perfected their craft.  Like "Guardians of the Galaxy", "Doctor Strange" successfully navigates an entirely new realm of superhero story, which has our hero utilizing magical powers rather than the brawny strength of the Hulk or Thor, or the scientific advantages of Ironman or Ant-Man.  In doing so, "Doctor Strange" brings to the screen an entirely different level of visual splendor with beautifully rendered set pieces upping the ante in both art direction and highly creative CGI.

It's evident from the film's initial scenes that Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a man who we won't think of as a potential superhero right away.  The brash neurosurgeon lives for the moment where he can take over the care of a dying patient and ridicule the lesser skill and intellect of his colleagues all while saving another life with his world renowned abilities in the operating room.  Strange's arrogance bleeds into his personal life as well, choosing to push others aside as if his accomplishments as a medical professional outweigh the need for any emotional ties in his life.  We get an early hint from a co-worker, Doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), that their was once a budding relationship between the two which quickly dissipated when she realized Strange was only in it for himself and his own advancement.  But life has a funny way of showing us when we're wrong, even if we have to learn hard lessons first in order to realize the error in our ways.

For Doctor Strange, this comes in the form of the severe consequences associated with distracted driving.  While cruising in his fancy sports car at night and manipulating his phone as he discusses prospective patients who need his services, the worst happens when he is involved in a terrible accident that has his car careening over a cliff and into a body of water.  When he awakens in the hospital, Strange is met with the sight of both of his hands being held together by external pins at every joint of every finger as both were badly broken and mangled in the wreck.  Of course this is the worst case scenario for a surgeon who relies on his steady hands to carefully remove bullets from head shot victims to the awe of those around him in the operating room.  Essentially, his hands are his life blood, and he struggles greatly to come to grips with the fact he will never be able to perform as a neurosurgeon again.

But Strange is persistent in his quest to find a way to regain the dexterity he once possessed.  After learning a patient, Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Brett), he once turned down went to a place called Kamar-Taj in Nepal as a paralyzed man but learned to walk again, Strange sets out to find this place and discover the secrets behind it.  It's at this point in the film director Scott Derrickson ("Sinister") and his screenwriters, Jon Spaihts ("Prometheus") and C. Robert Cargill ("Sinister") begin to blend the physics defying aspects of films like "Inception" and "The Matrix" with the narrative of a superhero origin story, as Strange is introduced to The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a master sorceress who teaches the art of using magic, as well as one of her closest allies, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor).  Of course, the egotistical side of Strange lends him to disbelief, but it isn't long before The Ancient One demonstrates the mystical powers she possesses and begins to teach Strange how he can use these powers for good.

The fatal flaw in the current DC Universe is the lack of humor in what is otherwise a dark and overly serious film going experience.  Put simply, films like "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" aren't much fun.  This is not, and never has been an issue in the MCU and "Doctor Strange" continues on in this trend.  For all the nefarious characters, such as Mads Mikkelsen's rogue former student of The Ancient One, Kaecilius, there are characters like Wong (Benedict Wong) who lighten up the mood by listening to Beyoncé tunes while running the library at the Kamar-Taj.  "Doctor Strange" is loaded with dozens of laugh out loud moments which are tightly integrated within what is a kind of MCU origin story template, but is nonetheless effective as it is entertaining.  And though there is certainly a level of predictability within the third act, the climactic scenes are also breathtaking visually with the use of every color on the palette as we learn the true purpose of the magical realm and how it factors into the existing "Avengers" storyline.  Save to say, we have a whole other aspect to consider now when thinking about how the MCU moves forward and into 2018's "The Avengers: Infinity War" with "Doctor Strange" wielding the kind of magical power unmatched by any one of the existing characters.  And it is these richly diverse characters like "Doctor Strange" who continue to ensure these films thrive, as Marvel and its army of talented filmmakers provide superb writing and the interesting storylines that allow them to succeed.  GRADE: B+