Marvel's latest offering, Doctor Strange, is a visually stunning film that takes the narrative within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) closer towards the Infinity Wars.
Dr Stephen Strange, played excellently by Benedict Cumberbatch, is an arrogant know-it-all neurosurgeon. He is a genius, has a photographic memory, and is successful and rich. But, he meets with a horrific accident, which leaves him incapable of using his hands any more. As a surgeon whose success depends on a pair of steady hands, he is devastated, and tries everything possible to fix them.
Eventually, he ends up in Kathmandu, Nepal, at the doorsteps of Kamar-Taj, the home and training grounds to the Masters of the Mystic Arts, looking for a way to heal himself through non-medical means. Much like Iron Man (and also Batman) before him, he is taught to release himself from his ego and pride. He goes through the process of unlearning his skills with The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), and over time, gains mystic powers.
Meanwhile, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen from Hannibal), one of The Ancient One's rebellious former students, is attempting to wreak havoc by contacting Dormammu of the Dark Dimension (voiced by Cumberbatch, but uncredited).
The film also stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, another student of The Ancient One. He helps Doctor Strange fight and protect the earth from the other dimensions. Rachel McAdams plays Christine Palmer, Strange's unquestioning surgeon colleague and romantic interest.
Much like other Marvel films, the wit and humour infused into the characters' conversations lightens up the heady subject of mystics and time-bending illusions.
After delivering films such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Day the Earth Stood Still, director Scott Derrickson has made a mark for himself with Marvel Studios.
The fun of the film also lies in its trippy visuals, which have captured the essence of the comic series' artwork by co-creator Steve Ditko. Even from the trailer, it looks like a remarkable concoction of films such as Inception and The Matrix, but is much more than those. It involves the complexities of bending space and time, opening up new dimensions, conjuring weapons through pure energy and cryptic but wise one-liners about time and the meaning of life and death.
To add to it, the background score is reminiscent of the psychedelic era of the 1960s, including Pink Floyd's Interstellar Overdrive.
Mikkelsen plays the single-minded manipulative villain with such ease, it almost looks like he was bored by the simplicity of his character. Indeed, Kaecilius was in the film only as a tool to introduce Doctor Strange and push the mystical hero into the MCU narrative. As Derrickson himself has reportedly said, his character would only serve to drive the “development of bigger villains” in later films.
Cumberbatch, sporting a French beard, a costume with the red Cloak of Levitation and the Eye of Agamotto medallion, and an American accent, is an absolute delight to watch. Whether he is wincing in pain, scoffing in pride or resolving to save the planet, he makes this mystical superhero relatable and admirable.
Watch out for the Easter egg references to the MCU, including the Avengers Tower and Stan Lee's cameo. The mid-credit scene sets up the premise for Thor: Ragnarok, releasing next year, while the post-credit scene references the next Doctor Strange film.
Film: Doctor Strange
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong