Through the first 13 movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we’ve been introduced to super-powered humans, hulking green monsters, intergalactic deities, and a walking, talking tree, amongst many other ridiculous ideas — but for the most part, its characters and their abilities have pretty much stayed within a realm of reality we can all relate to — until now.
The addition of Doctor Strange to the Avengers’ line-up adds sorcery, magic, alternate realities, and multi-dimensional time travel to the (for the most part) grounded in reality movie-verse. Crazy? Risky? Yes, but holy hell do they pull it off, and the result is easily one of the most satisfying solo efforts so far.
Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a neurosurgeon. He’s smarter than you. He’s better than you. And he’s not afraid to tell you. Think Tony Stark with a medical degree. After a tragic accident leaves him unable to use his hands, Strange embarks on a journey across the world to find a treatment. He’s taken in by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton is awesome), a Sorcerer Supreme who teaches Strange that his reality is what he makes of it, and through the mystic arts, helps him unlock an arsenal of knowledge and power.
The one thing Marvel has consistently done well is cast their heroes with actors who are both likable and embody the characteristics of their superhero alter egos. Cumberbatch fits right into the Marvel mold, giving us a feeling of the familiar and the excitement of something new. Yes, he will be an Avenger and I can’t wait to see him on screen with RDJr. — surely, I’m not alone in this?
Strange’s world is only made to feel like it can co-exist by the reality already established because of solid performances from the supporting cast, including Rachel McAdams as Strange’s – err, estranged love interest; Benedict Wong as the guardian of a magical library, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as The Ancient One’s right hand man, Mordo.
Director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) seems to have no problem taking the reigns of a big-budget spectacle. Working with screenwriters Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill, the filmmakers keep the plot simple, allowing them to focus on developing Strange into a multi-dimensional character (no pun intended) and let audiences immerse themselves into his magical new realm.
The villain(s) take a back seat to Strange and the trippy special effects, but that’s par for the course for a Marvel movie. Luckily they’ve got Mads Mikkelsen as the scorned and vengeful Kaecilius. He’s an incredible actor and brings a slight ring of sympathy to the malicious wizard, something normally missing from Marvel villains not named Loki.
While the story feels familiar (very comparable to the original Iron Man in all the best ways), it’s the mystical new world of magic and all the mind-melting special effects that truly set this apart from the rest of Marvel’s stable of movies. Whether it’s the city’s landscape folding and rotating like a LSD-infused sequence from Inception or the dazzling array of magical weapons Strange conjures (shields, whips, astro-projection), the eye candy is worth the upgrade to IMAX and 3D.
Of course, Doctor Strange is doing a lot more than simply introducing us to a new character. It’s also tipping its hat to the direction this next phase will take it’s characters leading up to and including the culminating event: Avengers: Infinity War (two parts: 2018, 2019 respectively) — Be on the look out for easter eggs and teases galore, for those who dig them — and be sure to stay after the credits for not one, but two stinger scenes setting up more goodies down the road. (Cameo warning.)
Doctor Strange is another home run for Marvel. After a slow start, the film really picks up, employs a great sense of humor (plus a bad ass soundtrack and score — ahem, Michael Giacchino) and establishes itself as one of the most visually dazzling movies of 2016.