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Doctor Strange (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)

Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange

DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Zara Phythian, Alaa Safi, Katrina Durden, Topo Wresniwiro, Umit Ulgen, Linda Louise Duan, Mark Anthony Brighton, Chris Hemsworth and Stan Lee.

Screenplay by Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill.

Directed by Scott Derrickson.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.  115 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

Honestly, I have not really read comics in years.  However, once upon a time I was really into them, so I’ve always had a certain amount of interest when my old favorite characters appeared in films or TV.  I tended to be more of a Marvel kid than a DC one, though I did follow both.

Therefore over the years, most of the heroes I read about have made it to screen (for better or worse) – Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Superman, The Flash, Captain America, The Fantastic Four, Batman, Thor, Iron Man, The Silver Surfer, Wonder Woman, Daredevil, the list goes on.  Others I have no memory of also have become stars – Ant Man, Wolverine, Guardians of the Galaxy, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Widow, Luke Cage.

Doctor Strange comes from sort of in an odd place, memory wise, for me.  I vaguely remember the character, what he looked like and having a few of his comics as a kid, but I remember nothing about him: his back-story, his powers, his villains, nothing.

It’s actually surprising that it has taken so long for Doctor Strange to break into the Marvel Universe of films, with so many other characters used and overused in the past, he is a well-known enough character that he should have at the very least been in the background in one of the Avengers films.  (Though one character in this movie points out the difference of Doctor Strange’s position in the MU from the Avengers, and it is a smart and valid point.)  Also it appears, from the Chris Hemsworth cameo in the patented Marvel hidden scene in the credits that the Doctor will be involved in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok.

And you know what?  Doctor Strange starts off as something of an odd duck in the Marvel Universe, and I mean that in a good way.  It is a more cerebral, philosophical film in a series that has started to settle into generic violence and mayhem.  Oh sure, towards the end, the violence and mayhem show up here, too.  And honestly, some of the most spectacular visual effects here seem to be closely patterned after Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Still, in the stark by-laws and boundaries of the Marvel Universe, Doctor Strange is one of the most intriguing and least programmed chapters in quite some time, before it eventually settles into same old same old.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays the good doctor (and yes, his name is actually Strange) in a familiar way in the early going – as an even more driven version of Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark from the Iron Man and Avengers series.  Dr. Stephen Strange is a brilliant, self-centered, driven, rich playboy brain surgeon who is constantly pushing himself to be better.  And who thinks that he is indestructible.

When an automobile crash (caused by some foolish multitasking on a mountain road) leaves Strange without the use of his once rock-steady hands, he goes into a massive funk, sure that without his surgical skills, he has no purpose.  Therefore he throws himself into physical therapy, in what appears to be a hopeless case.

When Strange hears about a former terminal cancer patient who has somehow cured himself (played in a terrific cameo by an underutilized Benjamin Bratt), Strange seeks him out, looking for his secret.  This leads him to a small temple in Katmandu, where he must learn to cleanse his mind in able to heal himself, with the help of The Ancient One, a mystic played by a bald Tilda Swinton.

It turns out that Doctor Strange has the ability to be a powerful sorcerer, and he finds himself dropped into a mini Civil War of the mind between the Ancient One and one of her fallen students (Mads Mikkelsen).  This makes for some seriously imaginative special effects and trippy visuals, but eventually it settles into the Marvel mega-battle between good and evil playbook.

Still, Doctor Strange is the best Marvel movie since Ant-Man, or arguably perhaps since the first Avengers film.  The intellectualism and mysticism, even if it is somewhat faux, works well in the Marvel universe.  (I particularly appreciated when a fellow sorcerer explained why Strange and the others will always be a separate, but equal, force of good from the Avengers.)

I’m looking forward to seeing more of this character as the Marvel films progress.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 4, 2016.

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