You think you know how the world works. You think this material universe is all there is. What if I told you the reality you know is one of many?
The Dr. Strange comics could only have come out in the 60’s. They unabashedly combined New Age style mysticism with Steve Ditko’s psychedelic artwork conveying surrealistic worlds that seemed to come from the mind of Salvador Dali. Which is why it’s only right and proper that Dr. Strange, directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) the latest Marvel movie be the trippiest, dippiest, most visually stunning film to date in their lexicon. Much has been made of the way buildings falling into themselves mimics the look of Inception, but we’re also treated to parallel universes whose look and feel is straight out of the old Ditko comics. The effects folks on Doctor Strange should clean up at the Oscars this year, and this is the rare movie that really does justify the cost of seeing it in IMAX 3D.
The plotline itself is a little skimpy with Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch of Sherlock and The Imitation Game) a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon whose hands are ruined in an accident. After Western medicine fails him, he spends his last penny on a ticket to Nepal to seek a cure at an ancient temple where he becomes an expert in the mystical arts. A cocky jerk getting taken down a few pegs only to rise to heroism in the third act is a song Marvel’s played for us many times before.
Tilda Swinton and Benedict Cumberbatch
Still even if it’s familiar ground in terms of character arcs, Strange’s training sequence at Kamar-Taj is a lot of fun. While playing an insufferable genius is second nature to Cumberbatch at this point, he shows an unexpected penchant for physical humor especially when he grapples with the cloak of power. Benedict Wong of Prometheus and The Martian is great as Wong the Temple’s stern-faced, badass librarian. Casting Tilda Swinton, a white woman, as The Ancient One, a character of Asian persuasion in the comics, was controversial, but there’s no doubt she brings a lot of energy and nuance to her scenes. And Rachel McAdams is quite charming and empathetic as Strange’s ex-lover Cristine whom he pushes away. Sadly there isn’t enough of her, just as you wish Mads Mikkleson as the main baddie had more to do than look suitably menacing while delivering speeches. (Though he does in fact look very menacing and his delivery is great.)
But the real standout of the cast may be Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things, 12 Years a Slave) as Mordo a militant fellow sorcerer and pupil to Strange.
Warning! May contain spoilers from here on out.
Mordo is a man of incredible strength and principle but also deeply rigid. Watching his ideals and beliefs conflict with sometimes morally murky and always messy reality is in some ways the real character arc of the film. One which leaves tantalizing possibilities for the future. Marvel movies may finally get another interesting villain besides Loki. And in fact Dr. Strange may soon be meeting Loki.
Photos courtesy of Marvel/Disney