Friday, November 4, 2016 marks the official theatrical release of Doctor Strange, the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the 14th, to be exact) directed by Scott Derrickson (Hellraiser: Inferno, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister). Nerd Nation Magazine was in attendance for the early press screening Tuesday, November 1, 2016 courtesy of Marvel Studios, Allied Marketing, and Regal Cinemas.
A film that’s been rumored and talked about many times since 1986, and has been in the hands of multiple major studios (including Warner Bros., Columbia Pictures, Miramax, and Paramount Pictures) and multiple filmmakers (including Bob Gale and even Wes Craven), yet for one reason or another has never made it past pre-production, Doctor Strange finally makes its way to the big screen under the Marvel Studios banner. So is it worth the 30 year wait that comic book fans and movie buffs have endured? Read on to find out!!
WARNING: THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN **VERY MINOR** SPOILERS.
WE PROMISE NOT TO GIVE AWAY ANY SURPRISES, TWISTS, OR MAJOR POINTS IN THIS REVIEW, BUT THE BASIC PLOT INFO IS NEEDED TO EXPLAIN THE STORY. THIS REVIEW IS 90% SPOILER FREE, BUT THERE IS SOME RISK IF YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTTHING ABOUT DOCTOR STRANGE. — YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.
Doctor Strange tells the story of Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch of BBC’s Sherlock and Star Trek: Into Darkness) a brilliant and highly skilled neurosurgeon who suffers a career-ending injury to his hands after a near-fatal car wreck. Despite Strange’s best efforts, none of the treatments seem to be working enough to fully repair the massive nerve damage to his hands, which have become shaky and weak. After his physical therapist tells him of Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt of Law & Order), a paraplegic patient who mysteriously fully recovered, Strange seeks out the man who tells him of a secret monestary called Kamar-Taj that healed him.
Despite the best efforts of his fellow surgeon and former lover Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams of The Notebook) to help him move on with his life, Strange uses all of his remaining resources, giving everything he has left to travel to Kathmandu, Nepal to seek out Kamar-Taj. There he is befriended by Modro (Chiwetel Ejiofor of Serenity and 12 Years a Slave) a powerful master sorcerer and skilled warrior who introdues him to The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton of Constantine, Michael Clayton, and The Chronicles of Narnia series) an immensely powerful Celtic mystic who has achieved immortality and serves as the sorcerer supreme. She shows Strange her power and initially casts him out, finding his arrogance and bad attitude similar to another former student who betrayed her, but finally agrees to train him after both being begged by Strange and encouraged by Mordo.
At Kamar-Taj, Strange continues his training to become a sorcerer, learning the mystic arts, harnessing incredible power, and reading through countless bizarre texts in the vast library tended by Master Wong (Benedict Wong of Prometheus and The Martian). There, he learns of Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen of Hannibal and King Arthur) a ruthless zealot who serves the evil entity Dormammu of the Dark Dimension, and who was once a master sorcerer under the tuteledge of The Anicent One. Kaecilius had attacked the sanctum and stolen a forbidden spell from an anicent text, but was driven back by the sorcerers. Strange learns very quickly and begins to master many of his new abilities, and is given the perfect opportunity to put that training to good use when Kaecilius and his zealots attack.
Strange comes into possession of the Eye of Agamotto, a powerful amulet containing an Infinity Stone that can manipulate time itself as well as the signature Cloak of Levitation, each of which choose him, not the other way around, for the record. Strange uses them to help with the battle against Kaecilius and his forces who seek to tear open the veil between dimensions and let the Dark Dimension – and more importantly, the evil Dormammu himself – through into our world.
From there, we’re ultimately faced with the big epic battle (the “boss fight” if you will) and while this review is again 90% spoiler-free, what I will tell you is that it doesn’t exactly go as you might expect for our heroes. Only thing I’ll say… JUST GO WATCH IT AND SEE FOR YOURSELVES!
From a technical standpoint, this film is absolutely mind-blowing. The special effects are exceptionally well done, harkening back to (if not outright borrowing from) such gems as Inception and The Matrix Trilogy. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if that’s true, there is definitely a love-letter to Inception in there for all to see.
It fits well with the story, doesn’t seem shoehorned in, and really draws in its audience. So long as Marvel doesn’t overdo this particular effect in the future, this will stand as one of the better uses of CGI to date. The introduction of the Time Gem is vital, and leads into the upcoming Infinity War, while not overpowering the story. In such a mystical, magical, and outright cosmic part of the Marvel Universe, great effects are not just apprciated, but outright required, and this film absolutely delivers.
The entire cast is phenomenal. Benedict Cumberbatch is amazing in his role as Doctor Strange, so much so that his perfromance harkens back to Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, or Patrick Stewart as Professor X in just how perfect the actor is for the character role. Cumberbatch initially comes off as very much the House M.D. rip at first, but quickly gains his footing, and finds his own way with it, delivering a stellar performance. Dormammu, who is also voiced by Cumberbatch, for the record, is also very well done, giving us the terrifying, all-powerful, cosmic being without being too over-the-top.
Tilda Swinton also stands out as particularly strong, despite the initial outcry from the always-offended internet slacktivists (that mostly populate Tumblr, and should absolutely be ignored by everyone else) over her casting, and offers a rare and much-needed strong female character who is neither sexualized, sassy, or bossy – the three traits most commonly used with these types of characters. It’s exceptionally refreshing to see, and I for one very much enjoyed her performance, as I often do with most of her roles.
Mads Mikkelsen does a very nice job as the main antagonist of the film, managing to maintain his subtle creepiness that he so famously brought to the Hannibal series, while also portraying a dark sorcerer and zealous fanatic who is both somewhat relatable, yet also very easy to root against. Both important points for a movie villain, in my humble opinion. Chiwitel Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams are also outstnading in their supporting roles as the badass friend and love interest, respectively, never once really standing out, but filling their positions quite well… particualrly as the film goes on. The casting department at Marvel should really get a lot of credit (no pun intended) for their suberb choices in these films, which continues on in this latest MCU installment.
All of that said, perhaps the most important thing to talk about here is the storytelling. This film manages to give us good character development AND be action-packed all at once. Typically, films like this can give one or the other, but the story is very well blended, and does a great job of working as a standalone film, as well as a harbinger of things to come. It never once drags, keeps the audience’s attention, and introduces some long-needed important characters into the MCU. For that alone, it gains a lot of points with this writer.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, Doctor Strange is one of the hands-down best superhero films we’ve seen in quite some time. It’s right up there with Guardians of the Galaxy as far as great Marvel films go, and right up there with Deadpool as far as great superhero films from any studios go. It absolutely holds its own as one of the best superhero films from anyone in 2016. It’s well direted, well acted, the effects are incredible, the story is very well told, and above all else, it’s fun! It’s not a perfect film, of course, but it’s honestly pretty close. As if you dear readers here at Nerd Nation weren’t already, seriously, do yourselves a favor, and go see this movie. I know I for one will definitely be going back to see it again. – 9.5/10
Editor/Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine