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Review: Doctor Strange – “The Matrix with magic”

Doctor Strange

For a different take, check out the reviews by Piers and Chris.

Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) directs Doctor Strange, which serves as an origin story for the character as well as an expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe into other realms, and fresh, fertile territory. Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) stars as the Doc, alongside Rachel McAdams (Sherlock Holmes), Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity) and Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal).

Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a brilliant neurosurgeon who has a knack for freehand brain surgery, but is also an arrogant and selfish show-off. After a car crash crushes his hands Strange feels like he has lost everything. He is no closer to recovery even after a million surgeries, and he pushes away his inside-and-outside-the-operating-theatre partner Christine (McAdams).

After hearing about a man who recovered from a seemingly incurable spinal injury after a trip to Tibet, Strange packs his bags and heads to Kathmandu. Here he makes a new friend, Mordo (Ejiofor), and learns the secrets of sorcery from The Ancient One (Swinton). Strange also learns that our world is under threat from a rebel sorcerer, Kaecilius (Mikkelsen), who wants to offer us up to a galactic entity in return for eternal life.

Cumberbatch is extremely likeable even when playing a bastard – as we already know from Sherlock – but here he also exhibits a lot of comic talent, because as serious and life-or-death as Doctor Strange gets it is still full of bags of the very funny Marvel humour™. His support from Ejiofor, McAdams and Benedict Wong (Sunshine), who plays librarian “Wong”, adds layers, cultivates more laughs, and brings out the character to his fullest in different ways. Ejiofor’s Mordo is a real straight shooter who doesn’t like to bend the rules; McAdams’s Christine is a highly skilled surgeon who is no damsel, and saves our protagonist and his pals more than once; while Wong provides heart and the biggest laugh of the film in a hilarious set piece.

There are many set pieces in Doctor Strange, and, as well as the comedy ones, there are great fight scenes, and mind-rending travels between dimensions. The visual effects are insanely good, especially in two scenes which combine the scrapping and the Inception on crack imagery: one which takes place while the city is folding and unfolding inside and outside of itself, and another while time is running backwards and freezing. These, and so many other perception bending shots and scenes, are truly far out and – especially in the fantastic 3D – will blow open your brain, then knock your eyes out through the hole.

Swinton and Mikkelsen are excellent too, with their characters making Strange into the man he needs to be. Tilda’s Ancient One is an alien sifu, challenging and entrusting him; while Mads’s Kaecilius tries to tempt him to the dark (dimension) side. “Poor villains” is an accusation frequently levelled at the MCU, but Mikkelsen plays Kaecilius as a hurt and angry zealot, and a tempting and traitorous threat.

“Forgettable score” is another regular criticism, but here composer Michael Giachino (Star Trek) takes his orchestral sweeps and brass blasts and then dials back – lavishing loads of fitting harpsichord into arrangements that at times feel like they would work in a horror film, and gives Doctor Strange a unique musical identity.

Doctor Strange is kaleidoscopic and kick-ass. Blending the medical and the mystical, the spiritual and the spectacular, and kung-fu and sorcery, this is Marvel Studios’s The Matrix with magic.


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