Directed by Scott Derrickson. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Benjamin Bratt, Michael Stuhlbarg. (2016, PG-13, 115 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 4, 2016
The Marvel Universe expands exponentially and with style to burn in this wonderfully weird tale of the titular, brilliant neurosurgeon brought low by his own cavalier arrogance only to be resurrected via Eastern medicine, mysticism, and the invaluable assistance of Tilda Swinton’s the Ancient One. (But of course.) Cumberbatch plays Doctor Stephen Strange with exactly the right amount of cocky smugness – quite Sherlock-ian in its way – and while his human nemesis (Mikkelsen) feels an awful lot like so many other Marvel madmen intent on world destruction, the final battle against a planet-sized, interdimensional being that exists beyond time itself perfectly recalls the comic’s mid-to-late Sixties heyday. Austinite C. Robert Cargill scripted alongside Scott Derrickson and Jon Spaihts, and the result is a tight, compact, and visually sumptuous origin story that revels in the surrealistic vision of Doctor Strange’s legendary creator and artist Steve Ditko.
Ditko’s unmistakable artwork for Marvel comic Strange Tales, where this character was introduced in 1963, was a staple of my childhood and remains a favorite for its epic occultism and the ability of Ditko (along with Stan Lee, natch) to conjure entire universes with nothing but pen, paper, and a limitless talent for kinetic panel after mind-boggling splash-page, issue after issue. Director Derrickson employs a vast array of jaw-dropping, vertigo-inducing set-pieces that capture that ol’ Ditko magic as much as any filmed version can. Although there was some hubbub over the casting of patently non-Asian Swinton in the role of a Nepalese sorceress, she sinks her teeth into the role – when does she not? – and her Ancient One is true to the spirit of the comic. Kudos also to costume designer Alexandra Byrne’s spot-on outfits (Strange’s enchanted cape is a character in its own right) and the entire visual effects team who have brought Marvel’s genuinely strangest (no pun intended) hero to cinematic life. Defiantly not your everyday Avengers movie, Doctor Strange instead inhabits the same franchise universe with an outré panache. He’s cool, this physician Strange, but I’m unsure what Hippocrates would think.