Marvel Studios has never been afraid to let things get a little weird. In a town like Hollywood where the heaviest hitters always play it safe, it is a credit to arguably the heaviest hitter of them all that they bring forward fringe characters from the Marvel Comics universe, hand them off to a competent director, and let their freak flag fly.
The success of the way-out-there “Guardians of the Galaxy” undoubtedly paved the way for the trippy, wild, and visually stunning “Doctor Strange.”
The character, most likely born out of too much experimental drug use in the 1960s, is a dimensional-hopping conjuror of spells who protects the earth from mystical threats.
It looks like a tough sell on paper, but director Scott Derrickson, known best for horror movies like “Sinister,” grounds his story in just enough reality to make the good doctor soar.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a talented star like Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, either.
Cumberbatch stars as Dr. Stephen Strange, a brilliant, egotistical surgeon whose hands are catastrophically mangled in a car crash, effectively ending his career. Strange searches the world for a way to repair his hands when he encounters what he thinks is a great healer in Nepal.
Ever the skeptic, Strange is at first unimpressed with his meeting with a guru called The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, rocking a bald cap with authority), but quickly realizes she and her followers have the power to skip through dimensions, conjure weapons from thin air and create portals to travel to any point in the universe instantly.
Strange is a quick study, but balks when he learns joining the ranks of The Ancient One and her compatriots like Mordo (the great Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong, whose presence in this movie brings the film dangerously close to exceeding the number of Benedicts that are allowed to star in any given movie), comes with protecting the earth from interdimensional baddies like Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his group of zealots who want to bring the destructive Dark Dimension into our own.
Strange also has to deal with love-interest/colleague Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), who nobly tolerates this arrogant jerk and the oddball hero he becomes.
“Doctor Strange” is a lot of fun, but it’s also unquestionably the most eyeball-popping comic book movie to come along, even being worthy of paying for the 3D upgrade. Battles take place in kaleidoscopic hallways as spells are conjured and holes are poked in space and time. And with the ability to fold matter in on itself, our mystical warriors face off in a spectacular scene against a Manhattan skyline that is constantly bending and contorting itself in all directions. It is a sight to behold.
Marvel has done an impressive job of avoiding superhero fatigue that is dragging down more venerable franchises by bringing a freshness and a spark to each new character they introduce while still, cleverly, making them all feel a part of one big universe.
The run Marvel has been on both creatively and financially is as impressive as it is unprecedented. “Doctor Strange” keeps the momentum going with the promise things aren’t going to be slowing down any time soon.
“Doctor Strange” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout and an intense crash sequence.