Doctor Strange

It’s a reflection of our current movie watching consciousness that superhero films not only land at the doors of multiplexes with increasing frequency but also with an almost built-in expectation of the quality they will bring. In the case of Marvel Studios, that quality pre-deterministically consists of knowing (or expecting), almost with a certain amount of surety, that the film will at the very least be watchable and if we’re lucky, maybe even memorably different. Doctor Strange just happens to be both those things.

The script, as always, is lucid and snappy. Here’s what you need to know. Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a wildly successful neurosurgeon who meets with an accident (fast car), rendering him unable to use his nimble hands. Stubbornly determined to find a cure when modern medicine fails, his restless search leads him to Kathmandu. Here, under the guidance of the mysterious Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, unsurprisingly androgynous) he learns the mystical arts. A curious perfectionist, Strange soon attains mastery of this form of sorcery and continues to learn, until he comes into contact with an evil offshoot that uses this form of magic for evil with, you guessed it, a desire to capture/destroy our very world. Despite being an obvious and calculated product of the mighty Marvel machinery with a storyline that follows the homogenized structure of origin, journey of self-discovery and impeding the end of civilization by taking on a potent enemy against all odds, Strange manages to be an efficient, often humorous drama, and a spectacular superhero action film. And by spectacular, I do mean SPECTACULAR in every sense of the word.

While both the Thor films and Guardians of the Galaxy represented the Studios big foray into the cosmic, Strange, befitting of its title, aims for the mystical and succeeds in big ways, most prominently visually. Director Scott Derrickson works like an optical contortionist, manipulating what we see onscreen endlessly into what can only be described as hallucinatory kaleidoscopes. The images themselves are delightfully rivetting to watch – they continuously bend and expand, impossibly and very often into infinity. The tesselate effects and the MS Escher inspired imagery, especially in the eye-popping Mirror World where many of the battles are fought, are full of wonderfully rendered geometric symmetry that is more than just slavish eye candy – it is, for once, purposefully used in telling and moving forward the otherworldly story of the film. The unusual points of view and irregular perspectives are breathtakingly singular in the world of cinema – you may be familiar with The Matrix or Inception, which possibly inspired this films look, but neither of them presented a world this skewered or distorted.

That’s all the visual stuff, much of which we see before it even gets to the part that engages the mind, with time and dimension travel and a clever climatic standoff that uses Groundhog Day for inspiration. The elusive Astral Plane from the comic books, a mainstay of many of the big event stories, finally gets a cinematic introduction and Cumberbatch slips into the role as easily as the cloak of levitation takes to Strange. In human form, the character he portrays has traits similar to Tony Stark, his fellow Marvel inhabitant, and though as Dr. Stephen he’s cocky, he’s also less egotistical and a tad bit more glum. There’s a lot more of the Iron Man DNA in the film than you might think – a conceited man of science sees the error of his ways, develops a consciousness, and finally, through an accident, gains superhuman (or in this case supernatural) abilities.

But this time, it’s not just Strange who goes through this discovery. Through him, we as audiences are likewise put through a quest that eventually turns into a plea asking us to open our minds to the potential that awaits us if cinematic visuals went beyond the droning monotony of conformity. Through all of this though, it becomes quite clear that Marvels most entertaining films are those that are gracefully playful, eccentric in tone and don’t take themselves particularly seriously. In that regard, Doctor Strange hits the bullseye.

Rating: ★★★★☆

About Faizan Rashid

A veteran Dubai based film critic, Faizan has been reviewing movies for nearly a decade. His work has been published in local newspapers such as 7days and on prestigious online websites such as MSN Arabia and wearethemovies.com