Eye-Popping Visuals Propel DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

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DOCTOR STRANGE (2016), the latest Marvel superhero movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Stephen Strange, a neorosurgeon turned superhero who can hop through alternate universes and time and space with relative ease, is an eye-popping cinematic adventure, missing only one important ingredient:  a story worthy of its visual grandeur.

DOCTOR STRANGE is the story of brilliant neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) whose ego is as big as the multiple universes in this movie.  He’s the best there is and he knows it.  But all of that changes after a catastrophic car accident leaves him with hands that are no longer functional due to severe nerve damage.  His days as a surgeon are over.

But Strange refuses to accept this fate, and in his search for answers learns of a man Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt) who after being paralyzed, miraculously regained full used of his legs.  It was a case that Strange himself had passed on, believing that Pangborn was beyond cure and surgery would not have helped.  Strange tracks down Pangborn, who tells the doctor that our of desperation, he had traveled to the Far East and it was there that he met people who taught him about mytisc arts and cured him.

So Strange travels to the Far East to meet these folks.  Initially, he rejects the teachings of this group, led by The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), as he believes in medical science, not mystic mumbo jumbo.  But The Ancient One and Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) eventually show him enough of these alternate universes and mystic powers that he has no choice but to accept their teachings.

He becomes their star pupil, which is a good thing since they need his help, as a former pupil, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) is stealing valuable pages from their private book collection and using them to wreak havoc on the world.  At first, Strange wants no part of their war.  As he says, he’s a doctor who has sworn to save lives, not destroy them, but once again, after seeing firsthand the evil deeds of Kaecilius, he changes his mind, and the newest Marvel movie superhero Doctor Strange is born.

Strange sets out not only to save the universe but also to get back his girlfrend, fellow doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) who he had alienated with his ego-driven rude personality.  Since this is a Marvel superhero movie, chances are high that Strange will succeed at both.

I really enjoyed DOCTOR STRANGE, in spite of a story that I found very, very silly.  In fact, for me, the weakest part of this movie was its story.  Not the background story on Doctor Strange himself.  I liked that part.  I’m talking about the whole plot with Kaecilius, and him using ancient spells and what-not to cause all kinds of sinister damage on the world.  That whole story I just couldn’t get into.  I couldn’t take it seriously.

Other than this, the screenplay by Jon Spaihts, C. Robert Cargill, and director Scott Derrickson, based on the comic book by Stan Lee, is pretty good.  I enjoyed the characterizations a lot here, and the dialogue is snappy and first-rate.  These writers share a pretty strong horror/science fiction background as well.  Spaihts wrote PROMETHEUS  (2012), while Cargill and Derrickson wrote the SINISTER movies.  Derrickson also wrote the screenplays to THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005) and DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014), two films he also directed.  I enjoyed DOCTOR STRANGE more than all of these other movies.

The Marvel superhero movies have always boasted A-list casts, and DOCTOR STRANGE is no exception.

Leading the way is Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange.  Cumberbatch nails the role, and he makes Strange a guy you love to hate, or hate to love.  I mean, he’s an arrogant pain in the ass, and later, even as he humbled by his injuries and by the vast overwhelming amounts of information and knowledge shown him by The Ancient One, he’s still an arrogant pain in the ass.  But when he’s using this side of his personality to take on the bad guys, he’s a hoot to watch in action.  I’ve said this about other actors who have appeared in Marvel superhero movies, and I’ll say it again here:  Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange delivers a high level performance that has no business being in a superhero movie.  It’s great acting.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is likeable enough as Mordo, and Tilda Swinton is her usual icy self as The Ancient One, perhaps being a bit warmer here than we’ve seen her in the past.  Swinton of course played the White Witch in the NARNIA movies, and she was also sufficiently cold as the irritating Mason in the fine science fiction actioner SNOWPIERCER (2013), starring Captain America himself, Chris Evans.

Benedict Wong delivers a nice scene-stealing performance as Wong, the stoic librarian and protector of The Ancient One’s books who Strange spends most of the movie trying to get him to crack a smile, which he refuses to do.

I also really enjoyed Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, and thought her scenes with Strange were all very good.  It’s just too bad the character never really became anything more than simply Doctor Strange’s love interest.

And while Mads Mikkelsen is effectively villainous as main baddie Kaecilius, like most of the villains in the majority of the Marvel superhero movies, he doesn’t do a whole lot nor is he developed to the point where we feel like Doctor Strange is in deep trouble because of him.  At this point, I’m convinced that the powers that be behind the Marvel superhero movies just don’t care that much about their villains, because without fail, in spite of the fact that these movies are all pretty darned good, the villains are always the least memorable part.  In fact, for me, the best Marvel villain remains TV villain Wilson Fisk played by Vincent D’Onofrio on the TV series DAREDEVIL.  The movie villains haven’t come close.

I saw DOCTOR STRANGE in 3D, and I have to admit, it looked pretty darn good.  In fact, I’d have to say one of my favorite parts about this movie was the way it looked.  I loved its visuals, especially the scenes near the end where Doctor Strange is hopping through time and space.

I thought director Scott Derrickson handled things well, and this is certainly the best movie I think he’s directed.

Once more, I pretty much enjoyed everything about this movie except for its story, which I found silly and at times flat out ridiculous.  Frankly, I thought it was beneath the rest of the production, which featured strong acting and high production values and eye-popping visuals.

Like the other Marvel movies, there is an after-credits scene— there are two actually, one midway through and one at the very end.  I enjoyed the first more than the second.

So, where does DOCTOR STRANGE rank with the other Marvel movies?  Well, for me, it’s not quite as good as the heavy hitters:  THE AVENGERS movies, IRON MAN (2008), GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014), and DEADPOOL (2016) I enjoyed more than DOCTOR STRANGE.

But I liked it better than the THOR movies, and it’s probably up there in the same neighborhood as the first CAPTAIN AMERICA movie.  It’s a solid superhero adventure, entertaining from start to finish.

And since it’s part of the Marvel cinematic universe, which has produced one quality superhero movie after another, that’s not so strange.

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