Benedict Cumberbatch makes big-screen magic in ‘Doctor Strange’
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton & Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by Scott Derrickson
I never really got Doctor Strange. A neurosurgeon who became a sorcerer, he just didn’t capture my youthful imagination—or my comic-book coinage—the way other superheroes did. Spider-Man was a zippy, zappy teenager. Thor was a god. The Silver Surfer was a surfer…and silver!
Doctor Strange was some older, kinda creepy grown-up dude with a moustache, a soul patch and a big red cape, who always looked like he had a swirl of mist coming out of his hands.
Well, after seeing him portrayed on the big screen, I clearly underestimated—or just plain overlooked—the guy. But I’m certainly a believer now.
The newest entry in the long line of Marvel Comics superhero sagas, the new Doctor Strange introduces Oscar-nominated Benedict Cumberbatch as the arrogant, self-centered and wildly successful brain surgeon whose career is shattered—along with his million-dollar hands—when his Lamborghini crashes off a curvy California roadway one rainy night.
Seeking “alternative healing” when all traditional efforts fail, Strange ends up at Kathmandu and the foothills of the Himalayas, where he meets the supreme sorcerer known as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). She shows him how “to reorient the spirit to better heal the body,” among other things—which include indoctrinating him into her secret society of wizard warriors, who’ve learned to harness and master all sorts of powerful secrets about space, time, consciousness, physics and matter.
The sorcerers, Strange also learns, are around to protect the Earth from dark forces of the cosmos who would do it harm—especially one particularly nasty malevolent entity and his zealots who want to conquer the planet.
“I came here to heal my hands,” protests Strange, “not to fight in some mystical war.” But that’s exactly what happens—this is, after all, a Marvel movie. But it’s a doozy, and director Scott Derrickson—who cut his teeth on horror flicks like Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil and The Exorcism of Emily Rose—delivers a rollicking adventure with crisp wit, strong characters and visually impressive razzle-dazzle. I don’t usually recommend spending any extra dollars to see a movie in 3D or IMAX, but this one was made for both of those formats, and it’s definitely well worth the splurge—especially for a couple of eyeball-popping, jaw-dropping, kaleidoscopic, head-tripping sequences that beg to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
Cumberbatch, beloved as TV’s Sherlock and lauded for the mojo he’s brought to movies including The Imitation Game, 12 Years a Slave and Star Trek Into Darkness, steps into the role of Strange like he’s been waiting for it all his life. Chiwetel Ejiofor is Mordo, one of the masters in service to the Ancient One; Mads Mikkelson plays the traitorous Kaecilius, whose theft of a sacred text threatens to doom the planet. Rachel McAdams, strong and sassy as Strange’s surgical colleague and former lover Christine Palmer, could have used a few more scenes. But in a movie this packed with things to appreciate, it’s hard to complain—and I get the feeling she’ll have more time to shine later.
And Strange’s Cloak of Levitation is the most badass superhero cape ever. It’s got his back, in more ways than one.
The bonus-scene teaser during the final credits is a nod to the doctor’s appearance in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War (2018). Clearly, Doctor Strange has taken his place in the Marvel pantheon. Welcome aboard, doc—I’ll definitely see you at our next appointment!
—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine