Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the kind of ace neurosurgeon who finds the time to play musical trivia games in an operating room whilst in the middle of delicate surgery. And he still saves the day. His beautiful contemporary Christine (Rachel McAdams) is quite clearly in love with him but for Dr. Strange it is all about his career and the glory that career can bring him. Until… — there’s always an until in movies like this isn’t there – everything changes after a car crash.
That’s when he goes seeking other ways to become whole again, crosses paths with Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and through him, The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and then has his mind opened up to the realities that exist beyond the one he is used to. And Doctor Strange’s origin story commences in complete earnest.
But even before we visit with Dr. Strange, before he becomes Doctor Strange, we are given a glimpse of the malleable worlds in which people like The Ancient One and Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) do battle. You see, even before Dr. Strange has his life-changing accident the world is in danger because Kaecilius—the chief villain of this piece—has stolen something that threatens the very existence of our world.
So there you have it: the stage is set in three paragraphs and you are prepared to witness the nearly two hours of—for lack of a better word fun—that is the first Doctor Strange movie.
The writing, the acting, the special effects – oh the special effects! The writers Jon Spaihts, C. Robert Cargill, and director Scott Derrickson do a good job of distilling the mumbo-jumbo down to its essence so that there is not enough time for audiences to roll their eyes. There are some really funny lines that play out like conversations between real people (keep an ear out for “Did these people work for you?” and “Mister Doctor” among others).
Oh my do these actors look good. Ms McAdams seems to be ageing quite like Pharrell which is to say – not at all and she brings a patient stillness to her character that would go a long way towards making her patients feel comfortable. Mr. Cumberbatch and Mr. Mikkelsen make 40 and 51 look really really good and both of them seem to have trained hard for the physical demands of their respective roles. Mr. Ejiofor brings a gravitas to his character that one just doesn’t see in comic book-inspired movies (and I am not talking about the grimaces worn by Superman and Batman in the DC movies) while Tilda Swinton’s bald-headed Ancient One is so ethereal looking it is totally believable that the character has been alive for longer than average humans can comprehend.
Director Scott Derrickson deserves a shout out as well for shepherding the screenplay into a story of such scale and ambition while managing to bring it in at a runtime under two hours.
The other big thing that works in this movie is the central idea of time: the fact that we—individuals—have so little of it, and that we waste so much of it trying to control our destinies. In that respect Kaecilius is every one of us – every one that has lost something to the ravages of time and would do anything to get that back.
What doesn’t work
Dr. Strange’s hair when he is walking the Earth trying to find a cure for what ails him. Somebody in the hair department messed up. Or maybe they just didn’t have the time (that word again) to fix it because I read somewhere that this movie, that looks like a massive visual undertaking, started principal photography as recently as last year.
Final Analysis: The people at Marvel seem to have a simple approach for introducing a new idea into the world. They did it with Iron Man in 2008, Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 and they have done it again with Doctor Strange. They made the movies fun. So to answer the question I asked in the title of this review: yes Doctor Strange is the Marvel movie that gets things really really right and it also feels like their most grown up movie yet.
Also, the first time Dr. Strange is made aware of all that he has been blind to until he met The Ancient One would make for a really trippy theme park ride. This is one of the few movies I would recommend watching in 3D, on an IMAX screen if possible.