So it took me a while to get to the theaters, but we finally saw Marvel’s newest offering, Doctor Strange. For those not in the know, the “sorcerer supreme” was first introduced in the early 1960s, and unlike the more “power fantasy” based superheroes who would punch and jump and kick their way to victory in a world based on our own, Dr. Strange was part of a far more colorful, trippy, psychedelic world of spells and inter dimensional beings and magic. I was looking forward to a movie that diverged from the now-familiar pattern of unworthy “diamond in the rough” hero finds his soul and punches his way to victory. And this movie didn’t disappoint.
Okay, Doctor Strange does sort of fall into that, in the beginning. Stephen Strange is a world renowned neurosurgeon who is vain, arrogant, and self-obsessed. And yes, after a debilitating injury that leaves his precious hands mangled, he goes on a quest that changes him. So far, we’re checking off the boxes of the “hero’s journey.” But it’s inward and psychedelic, with the visuals lending excitement, rather than huge tentpole battles. Strange is fighting the forces of darkness, yes, but his real battle is with himself.
High praise must go to Benedict Cumberbatch. It would be easy—safer, even—to introduce Stephen Strange as an impetuous but lovable snot with a heart of gold, but Cumberbatch never shies away from making him brutally unlikable, and keeping his self-discovery slow and profound. When he finally does pick up the mantle of hero—and he gets some fist waving hero moments—they feel earned, not arbitrary. And everything isn’t wrapped up neatly in the end, which is another point for this movie.
The rest of the cast does a spectacular job as well. Mads Mikkelsen plays a really excellent villain, one who seems both cruel and reasonable at the same time. Tilda Swinton is also great as the Ancient One, a part that is Asian in the comics (and there was a lot of controversy about the “whitewashing” of the part). Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, none of them play a wrong note.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that this movie is a true visual feast. Since they can move reality, time, and space, think Inception but after drinking a case of energy drinks and dropping acid. These types of movies are always CGI heavy, but this one really takes you on one hell of a journey (and I saw it completely sober, if you’re wondering). Also, Marvel movies have become known for a sort of “sameness” in their musical themes, but Michael Giacchino’s score definitely stands out as one of the winners, too. All in all, if you like Doctor Strange, Marvel movies, fantasy, magic, you’ll love this one.