Review: ‘Doctor Strange’ Embraces Marvel’s Weird Psychedelic Side

"Doctor Strange" (2016) - Movie Review

Cumberbatch Triumphantly Debuts in MCU as Doctor Strange

After 13 feature films, asking where can the Marvel Cinematic Universe can go next comes almost second nature. So far, we’ve embraced the peculiarities of Ant-Man and Thor. Even the duo of Rocket Raccoon and Groot seemed pretty far out there in Guardians of the Galaxy. So there’s not much left to tackle before the 2019 Avengers endgame. With Doctor Strange added into the mix, that reality is about to be shattered.

Like Iron Man and Thor before, Doctor Strange brings yet another arrogant larger-than-life individual into the fold. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a gifted neurosurgeon, a practical miracle worker. His ego is all over the place in intensive care, which strokes his colleagues the wrong way and results in an on-off relationship with fellow surgeon Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). After a freak car accident, Strange loses the power of his hands. Desperate to restore his accomplished self, Strange receives a tip to venture east and learn the Mystic Arts.

There’s much Doctor Strange sets out to accomplish. With Marvel sequels coming left and right, Strange aims for the formulaic origin story. Yes, this deep into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the roster just never ends. And yet Captain Marvel and formal introduction to Black Panther are still on deck. But in the midst of introducing Strange, this latest MCU film also has to tap into the time and reality element plus drop a few teases for 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. Recent origin stories like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man weren’t saddled with this level of complexity.

While Doctor Strange does play Iron Man and Thor beat-for-beat in the first act, the repetition doesn’t emerge as old news. Thank Benedict Cumberbatch, whose energetic performance breathes new life into the MCU. If Marvel succeeds at one thing, it’s top-notch casting for its heroes. Robert Downey Jr. was perfect as Iron Man. Chris Evans is without a doubt Captain America. Now, Cumberbatch fulfills the promise of an out-of-this-world Doctor Strange.

SEE ALSO: Captain America: Civil War Triumphs as Marvel’s Film to Beat 

The screenplay by director Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill allows Cumberbatch to truly explore the character for the very first time. He comes to Kamar-Taj, the Mystic Arts compound all cynical and driven by his scientific doctrine. Once he’s knocked out of his physical form and into his astral form by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), the psychedelic journey begins. Bending time and reality opens up brand new doors in the MCU. Surely, if you thought the tease was a borderline acid trip, just wait for Strange to crawl down a rabbit hole a bit further. It works much better when blaring some of Michael Giacchino’s appropriately trippy score.

By far, Doctor Strange is the very definition of a visual feast for the MCU. While the airport clash was the crowning achievement of Captain America; Civil War, the visuals here are in a world of its own. Basically, if Inception and The Matrix had a love child in the MCU, it would be Doctor Strange. The reality bending isn’t overdone either, used when needed. It’s no gimmick, rather a reality Strange must face, having seen the world through a keyhole his entire life.

The only area Doctor Strange struggles with its own reality is with its villains, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his mysterious ally. Except for Loki in The Avengers, exceptional villains have always been Marvel’s continuous flaw. Derrickson and Cargill’s screenplay attempts a new direction with Kaecilius, but the trap has already been laid from the film’s first moments.

Shockingly enough, Doctor Strange amps up the comedy, making it one of the humorous Marvel films to date. A weird juxtaposition, especially when your main character’s been paralyzed. Still, it works. There’s even a floating cape that could give the rug from Aladdin a run for its money as the most adorable sentient object on screen. Cumberbatch gets in plenty of jokes as does the supporting cast including Tilda Swinton and her proteges, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong.

Doctor Strange opens up the possibilities of how far Marvel is willing to take their Cinematic Universe. While it’s not the next game-changer that the Captain America trilogy was, Phase Three is without a doubt steamrolling to success.

Written by
Matt Marshall has been reviewing films since 2003, starting with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." He specializes in home media, including 4K UHD, Blu-ray as well as box office analysis. He has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism from St. John Fisher College and resides in Rochester, NY.

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