Doctor Strange Review (No Spoilers)

doc.pngFirst Word: Most superhero pictures are CGI-cluttered eyesores, but the new Doctor Strange film has a dazzling kaleidoscope that offsets the usual thin-ish story featuring A-list actors exchanging blows and witty remarks. This film also has quite a bit of heart and a clear direction. For now, at least, it seems like Marvel is allowing their directors to be creative and truly realize their vision.

Synopsis: (7.5) Created by Steve Ditko, Dr. Stephen Strange is not the most famous or distinctive of the Marvel characters, but thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch he might be the most entertaining.  When we meet Strange, he’s a neurosurgeon.  The best on Earth in his humble opinion, this makes him insufferable to his colleagues and his ex-girlfriend, fellow surgeon Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). But when this supreme egotist drives his car off the road, disintegrating the bones in his hands along with his identity, he can’t even get people to call him “Doctor,” anymore.   As his ego shrinks, Strange comes to see himself as a “tiny speck in an indifferent universe.” But the Marvel universe is anything but indifferent: it has a wicked sense of humor.  Under the tutelage of a Nepal-based bald woman of indeterminate origin called the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), Strange must accept that his former sense of mastery was an illusion.  He realizes that one can’t beat a river into submission but instead surrender to its current, that there are an infinite number of universes, and that the spirit exists apart from the body in a timeless and immaterial realm. Yes, it’s a lot of “forget-what-you-think-you-know” Matrix inspired dialogue bolstered by Buddhist blah-de-blah, but it sounds great with the crisp diction of Swinton, whose dome seems to have been de-pored by computers to make it smooth as a baby’s butt. Meanwhile, the designers — production, makeup, costume, effects — make the comic truly come to life.

Cinematography: (9.75 Astonishing) The problem with CGI in Marvel movies is that it tends to be used so promiscuously that miracles become cheap. But when there’s a controlling idea the CGI can seem miraculous again. Doctor Strange takes off from Plato’s famous notion that the physical world is a reflection in a mirror — and here that mirror can be shattered and reassembled and shattered again, or compressed like an accordion, or turned funhouse-wavy so that buildings become giant Gumby’s that fold in on themselves. After Strange learns to spin flaming circles in the air and disappear into a spatial-temporal vortex, the film becomes a true cosmic adventure: The characters create their own doors for running in and out of realities which at times can be a bit confusing.

Characterization: (9) Did I say A-list actors? A+ is more like it, although the brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor has to over-muzzle himself as the Ancient One’s second-in-command, Mordo. Most of what Mikkelson says is gobbledygook, but his delivery is so bone-dry that he makes a vaudevillian-style word mix-up gag sound like Oscar Wilde (Where his look was inspired). His eyes seem to have been gouged out and replaced with smoky shards of glass, which are spookily of a piece with those inhumanly sharp cheekbones.  Above all there is Cumberbatch. His first scenes are too much out of the House playbook and his from-nowhere American accent even resembles his countryman Hugh Laurie’s. But deprived of his normal Sherlockian cadences, he seems abnormally vulnerable, and his attempts to control the time-space-continuum are small masterpieces of pantomime.  Instead of a Thor-like hammer or Captain America-like Shield, Dr. Strange has a weaponized cape with a will of its own, and Cumberbatch is so skinny that the cape completes him. As he confidently strides into the terrifying “dark dimension,” we know he’ll be okay. His very spirit seems to billow. 

Conclusion: As I entered the theatre for Doctor Strange I expected to see a subpar Marvel film. However, Doctor Strange is perhaps the most visually stunning and well acted Marvel film to date. Marvel has also struggled with villains however that was not the case in this scenario.  This is a visually beautiful, exceptionally acted superhero film.

Final Score: 8.75

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