-Marvel’s newest incarnation is definitely its biggest deviation from the formula.

It’s getting hard to keep track of these damn Infinity Stones, isn’t it?

Well, along with the introduction of our fifth stone to lead up to the big Infinity War plot-line in the next few years, we also get the introduction of the new, magical branch of the MCU. While the Avengers protect the Earth from more physical threats, it seems that we had, until this moment, ignored the group that protected us from meta-physical threats of other dimensions. Well, they’ve joined the fray, and pursuant to a rather amusing post-credits sequence from Doctor Strange, the cross-over will happen soon. However, in the meantime, our new installment, Doctor Strange, is a rather self-contained film that plays by its own rules. Surprisingly, it (mostly) works.

Arguably our most delightful, full-fleshed character of this ever-expanding universe (no pun intended) comes out in Sherlock, I mean, Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), an acclaimed neuro-surgeon who spends his life trying to establish a name for being scientifically innovative and wildly successful with seemingly impossible brain surgeries (and having a pretty great girlfriend too in Rachel McAdams). He also has a knack for remembering the extensive, decade-spanning catalog of pop music post-1960. It’s not important, but everyone needs a quirk.

He decides to video chat and drive (don’t do it!) and gets in an exaggerated car wreck that would kill anyone not in a superhero film. While he survives, the accident leaves him with extensive nerve damage in his hands that make his life’s work now impossible to even consider. Treatment after treatment gives him no relief, until he heads East to Nepal, where he crosses paths with “The Ancient One” (a cue-ball Tilda Swinton), a magical protector/teacher who knows how to manipulate dimensions and create magic on Earth, and partners up with the boring Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). While he may not get his hands back, he does begin to learn the mystic arts, also getting thrown into a conflict between the sorcerers and a disgraced former member Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson) who has started to use dark magic to attempt to become immortal.

There are plenty of problems with Doctor Strange, relating specifically to the ever-growing Marvel trope of weak villains and a poorly paced plot structure. While our opening is a great insertion into this interesting origin story, the process of Strange learning his powers and eventually becoming involved in this massive conflict happens very quickly. He’s a bit of a frustrating character because we are not seeing his growth, even though we should be. We go very instantly from a second act tragedy to the third act finale, and the film is not really sure about how to come up to breathe after being mired in the preliminary conflict. That’s not to mention that his training is very short lived.

In terms of the villain, it’s really just that he’s there to allow Strange to become more combat ready. His “destroy the world with evil magic because of…” plot-line grew tiresome, and is just another item in the long line of Marvel projects that don’t know how to make conflict seem natural.

The performances (outside of a wooden Ejiofor) are all pretty good, especially being elevated by an excellent, and fairly nuanced, Cumberbatch. The film totally understands that the two catching points are Cumberbatch and the visual palette of the rotating landscapes. Although clearly using quite a bit from Inception, the visuals do a really great job at helping the action scenes become their own beast. If there’s one thing that this film has going for it, it’s that it’s fairly unique. Once you take away the fancy magic stages and the less-than-desirable supporting characters, it really is a story about an unlikable character learning to grow. It fits into the rest of the MCU in an exciting way with a few good post-credits sequences, and there’s enough fun here to recommend.

 

3 stars

Doctor Strange (2016)

Genre: SciFi/Fantasy

Director: Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Deliver Us From Evil)

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, and Mads Mikkelson

with: Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt

RT Score: 90%

 

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