The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a bit multifaceted when it comes to its films. On the one hand you have the traditional “punchy” superhero flicks with the likes of Iron Man and Captain America, while recently Marvel has been pursuing more “otherworldly” titles. It began with Thor, the franchise’s first delve into the ethereal and mystical, and continued with its sequel as well as the zany Guardians of the Galaxy. This time around, Marvel probes even further into the mystic and explores just how much magic there is lurking behind other dimensions.
Summary: (No spoilers)
When expert neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch—–The Imitation Game, Star Trek Into Darkness) is involved in a near-fatal car crash leaving his hands severely damaged, the demoralized doctor searches for any possible procedure to repair his life. When Western medicine proves a dead end, Dr. Strange turns to the East and its alternative methods. He finds solace in a group of sorcerers who teach him to expand his mind and broaden his view of the physical world. The result is a mystical journey into the inter-dimensions, a path that leads to great opposition and an enlightenment that Strange thought never possible.
Also starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong, and Tilda Swinton
Tragic circumstances unfortunately plague many, and oftentimes the difficulty of resuming life normally proves far too daunting and implausible. Stephen Strange is a character whose incessant shaking of the hands disallows him to continue on with his livelihood, something that has come to define him as a person. And, like many, his inability to mend what has been broken leads to bitterness and eschewing of those who care for him.
In this sense, Strange is relatable. Certainly not at first, as his Tony-Stark-like ego and mega pride make him something to be looked at with disdain. But you ultimately sympathize with his desire to heal and be whole again, even if his prior life contained no sense of completeness. While the film’s first act is admirable and conveys with aplomb what it needs to, it’s after Strange’s first encounter with the inter-dimensional world that the film ramps up.
What we’re treated to for the film’s duration is a true visual feast, a kaleidoscopic experience enhanced with mind-bending visual splendor and an almost hallucinogenic sense of stupor. Imagine looking through a kaleidoscope on LSD while watching Inception or The Matrix. The film’s action sequences are unlike anything seen before, especially within the Marvel universe, as fractal shapes make you question the very fabric of reality. Look for this film to not only be nominated for its achievement in visual effects at next year’s Academy Awards, but to win—–and win big.
But great visuals are only enhancements—–cinematic utensils for telling a grander story. Your films are only as good as your actors. Fortunately, Doctor Strange utilizes some of the best acting talent around, including three Oscar nominees and one Oscar winner. Benedict Cumberbatch—–a world-class actor through and through—–delivers perhaps one of his greatest performances yet. His sheer talent seeps into his performance, an accomplishment akin to Robert Downey Jr.’s in Iron Man. It’s the ease of comedy and cockiness of nature coupled with charisma that Marvel Studios pursues (think Thor or Peter Quill). And while Mads Mikkelsen’s villain isn’t as fleshed-out as he perhaps should be (a staple flaw of Marvel Studios), Mikkelsen still imbues the role with a never-bombastic and grounded performance.
In a nutshell:
Yet again . . . yet again . . . the immortal Marvel Studios proves that nothing is too outlandish (I was avoiding the word “strange”) for them to tackle. The road to Infinity Wars is ramping up, with this film’s time-bending Infinity Stone being at its focus. Well-acted, well-paced, and well-directed, the ethereal mysticism behind Doctor Strange lends itself well to the overall tone. Though you occasionally become a bit lost with talk of other dimensions and time continuum and spiritualism over matter, the character of Stephen Strange is always right there at its heart, reminding us that human will and dedication will always trump mysticism.