I was thinking…
…there was a time, not too long ago, when comic books were looked down upon as kid’s fare, and the thought of any superhero running around in the real world while bedecked in their trademark costume was regarded as ridiculous bordering on utterly ludicrous.
But look at how ludicrous the world has become in the meantime. So, now, suddenly seeing a man in a red cape making a fancy light show with his hands doesn’t seem so…dare I say, strange?
I know. I know. I just had to get it out of my system. Won’t do it again.
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch—Star Trek: Into Darkness), a famous and ridiculously wealthy neurosurgeon, is also an arrogant, egotistical but oddly likeable jackass. Crashing his Lamborghini, he loses all fine motor control of his hands, losing his ability to ever perform surgery again. So, then he becomes a penniless arrogant and egotistical jackass.
While Strange is undergoing physical therapy, his therapist regales him of a tale of one of his former patients–a man who could no longer walk. After believing the man had given up on his therapy, the therapist was shocked to see his former patient a few years later walk past him on the street.
Strange tracks down that man (Benjamin Bratt), from whom he learns of a sort of monastery in the Far East called Kamar-Taj, where he regained the ability to walk.
Leaving his world behind and spending the last of his money, Strange travels to Kamar-Taj where he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton—The Grand Budapest Hotel) and one of her most trusted students, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor—12 Years a Slave). Strange learns not only of the mystic arts, but that there are infinite universes–the multi-verse–and their sorcerer order is dedicated to protecting the earth from the evil Dormammu–a malevolent being from another realm.
Meanwhile, one of the Ancient One’s former students, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen—Rogue One–A Star Wars Story, Casino Royale), and his followers are dedicated to opening earth to Dormammu with the goal of gaining immortality.
Whoo! And that was the abridged version I just gave you.
Taking what I said before about wearing a cape back to the fore, Doctor Strange handles the oddity quite well in two important ways. First, the clothing–at least Strange’s–is somewhat understated. Think of Wonder Woman’s armor in the hotly debated Batman v Superman (read the review here.) While utilizing the traditional colors of the superhero’s iconic garb, it does so in a muted way. The effect of every scrap of cloth being tinted by a first grader’s smellable marker is gone and we are left with a more real-world version of the familiar.
Secondly, everybody in the real world actually notices the peculiarly dressed heroes and villains when they walk, run or–as the case may be–defy gravity down the streets. They look out of place to any sane person and the people in the film’s version of the real world think so, too.
Where the acting is concerned, the movie is populated by some of the best in the business. While Warner Brother’s DC arm is making questionable-at-best casting decisions, Disney’s Marvel property has been actively seeking the industry’s most talented for each role. Perhaps this is just one more reason the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) consistently trumps DC’s attempts.
While Cumberbatch always seems to be bringing his A-game, Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One is an enigmatic yet delightfully impish mentor with a quality bordering almost on Yoda-like. Often cast for her androgynous looks, Swinton comes off as strangely ageless and feminine in her role, which is especially ironic considering she is sporting a Sinead O’Connor do.
Mikkelsen and Ejiofor are also both clearly masters of their trade and have proven they can play both sides of the antagonist-protagonist spectrum. Supporting the primary players are the more-than-competent Rachel McAdams and Benjamin Bratt. In short, there is very little to be upset about in the casting department.
Not only is the talent there, the effects are, well, spell-binding. Seen in the (no doubt preferred) formats of 3D and in IMAX, the world-shifting special effects throw you off balance from the word go. Indeed, the opening battle is akin to trying to walk along the surfaces of six self-solving Rubik’s Cubes that are being juggled within a giant kaleidoscope.
If you can imagine that, you’ll be ready to delve into this fantastical world.
Perhaps seeming a little out of place, but nonetheless still very consistent with the rest of the Marvel Universe, is the presence of humor, ranging from whimsical to sardonic. 2008’s Iron Man set the tone for the imaginary universe and it carries through to this film, which easily stands apart from its siblings.
Although we have seen the magic of Loki in the Thor films and visited other realms and worlds in Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy, there is still something very separate about Doctor Strange–as if it operates on a different plane than the rest of the MCU. Whether this is by design considering the nature of the story line or if it simply came to be through the handling of a director who is far more synonymous with the horror genre than with action/fantasy, who knows. Perhaps that will come out on the DVD commentary.
Where I found it a tad lacking is where I feel many of the MCU films seem to fall a tad flat: the score. Michael Giacchino has written some very stirring pieces in the past, but his theme for Strange echoes too closely to that of John Williams’ Harry Potter theme. Give it a listen starting at about 3:44. Tell me I’m nuts.
Did you hear it?
That magical familiarity aside, Giacchino does employ the use of harpsichord and sitar, giving it both a European baroque and very Eastern flair at the same time. However, while both feel appropriate for the character, the former instrument does draw another parallel, but this time to Cumberbatch’s work on Sherlock.
As we delve deeper into a world where men wearing their underwear on the outside of their clothes becomes the norm, it becomes evident this film will not only spawn a brood of sequels, but it may stand above many of its compatriot comic book films for some time to come. After all, stranger things have happened.
I lied. I did it again.
Ammo Dump rating: 8 out of 10 slingrings
I’ll talk more about this film and others during my radio show every Friday afternoon at 4:10 pm. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on @ALphaEXray.. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter
Run time: 115 minutes (1 hours 55 minutes)