I freely admit that I was skeptical until the very end that comic book fans would ever get a good or respectable movie about “Doctor Strange.” Some comics just don’t translate at all to the cinematic medium. Thankfully, director Scott Derrickson proves me wrong, providing a cinematic adaptation of “Doctor Strange” that’s very much its own superhero tale while also embedding itself as a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Marvel spirit is in full force here, but the movie does take the source material seriously while subtly injecting a sense of whimsy here and there. “Doctor Strange” comes during a good time where movie audiences like some magic with their adventures, and Doctor Strange is that kind of fantasy movie for comic book fans that they’ve always wanted.
Benedict Cumberbatch is rather excellent as Stephen Strange, a brilliant surgeon with a penchant for finding ways to help people through surgery that other doctors can’t. When he’s involved in a horrific car wreck, he awakens to find out his hands have been destroyed. Despite months of therapy, the nerves in his hand have been rendered useless and Stephen loses his ability to function, alienating himself from his only friend, fellow doctor Christine. When he learns a paraplegic patient sought help and returned with the ability to walk, Strange seeks out the source of his help and finds Kamar-Taj. It’s an ancient temple run by “The Ancient One,” a spiritual being who teaches her disciples the art of mysticism which allows their body to work beyond the realm of medical science and control itself. Despite Stephen’s initial skepticism and egomania, he learns about the incredible powers of the Kamar-Taj school.
Soon enough he realizes he’s advancing more than the other students, and finds an unquenchable thirst for knowledge that begins to scare “The Ancient One” and her assistants Wong and Karl Mordo. Another of their powerful students Kaecilius advanced a great deal and is now using his skills to bring a demon named Dormammu in to the Earth realm to consume it and rule over it. Now Strange is pulled in to the war, and decides he and his allies must stop Kaecilius before it’s too late. “Doctor Strange” injects science in to magic and vice versa allowing for a brutally entertaining amalgam, and a rather excellent tale of redemption and realizing one’s potential to be a selfless hero. Director Scott Derrickson injects some really interesting elements in to the mythos of Doctor Strange and embraces all of its facets allowing for something of a raucous fantasy adventure.
Doctor Strange is here in full force, high collar and all, but Derrickson lives up to the promise of dropping us in to a surreal action film that stands apart from “Civil War” and “The Avengers.” There are some truly sweeping and mesmerizing moments of action that allow the narrative to completely step outside the box and give Strange’s own world a sense of individuality. Derrickson handles these sequences beautifully, staging a great battle in a temple, a dazzling hand to hand fight in astral form, and there is the excellent finale set in Hong Kong. The film fully embraces what makes Doctor Strange’s tale so fantastic, realizing some of the most epic elements of the battle against good and evil. Strange is a welcome source of wit who imparts a sense of science with his magical combat, which helps him to stand apart from his allies in the long run.
“Doctor Strange” adapts the Marvel character beautifully in to a fun, engrossing, and visually impressive action film all around. I hope the sequel further widens the world Doctor Strange has entered; this is a character teeming with potential for more epic battles and ventures in to other realms.