Even though it's "yet another" origin story, I was quite looking forward to the latest Marvel Universe deal--the advance reviews were great, and not only that, one of my favorite horror directors of recent years (Scott Derrickson of SINISTER) was at the helm. Hey, we got James Wan back after FURIOUS 7, so I'm not too worried... yet.
Vainglorious neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) finds out the hard way that you shouldn't drive while distracted (it's funny that they spell the message out in the end credits because the actual sequence is far more likely to get attention). With his hands destroyed and his resources depleted, he takes a desperate trek to Nepal, and after a rough start, quickly masters the mystical techniques of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) just in time to find himself forced to deal with rogue disciple Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen of CASINO ROYALE is perfectly cast as a persuasive villain) and the Dark Dimension and all that stuff.
Okay--lots of mythology to learn, lots of characters to keep track of (including Chiwetel Ejiofor as the concerned Mordo and Rachel McAdams as fellow doctor Christine Palmer), and an endless supply of trippy special effects and dimensional jumps (think INCEPTION x10). Technically, it's all fantastic, but the success of DOCTOR STRANGE, I'm happy to report, lies completely in the hands of the terrific cast.
Some have suggested that Cumberbatch is unusually restrained in the role--I say he hit just the right note with a character whose ego is so all-consuming that he can scarcely ever believe that he might be in the wrong... it takes a demonstration of unbelievable power to get his attention, and even then he's right back to assuming he's effortlessly in charge a few minutes later.
Then there's the controversial casting of Swinton as the Ancient One. It's not true to the comic and they didn't cast an Asian actor (in this role, anyway). So how can you cast a decidedly non-ancient Celtic character in the role? The defense rests with Swinton's performance, of course. Hmm... maybe SHE should play Chiun when they do a proper Destroyer movie? Seriously--she makes the movie that much better.
And despite all the potentially heavy-handed lesson-learning and mumbo-jumbo one might expect to slog through, DOCTOR STRANGE tears through a very reasonable two-hour running time (including two credit cookies) and never loses its sense of humor (one of Mikkelsen's best lines is "You don't know how to use that, do you?") through its series of highly-imaginative astral-projection combat sequences and time/space manipulation.
Yep... looks like the Doc is going to fit quite comfortably into this universe. Enjoy.
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