Dr. Strange is one of those comic book properties that seemed like it could never happen. From the failed television series in the 60’s to Full Moon’s attempt at a film that resulted in the knock off flick Dr. Mordrid. Stan Lee’s insane alliteration of spells and words combined with the acid trip colors and shapes of Steve Ditko’s artwork for a long time could not be conceived on film and by the time the technology was there it seemed no audience would be able to accept the insanity of what a true Dr. Strange adaptation would be. In comes director Scott Derrickson whom had worked in the horror genre for quite some time and hit big with his film Sinister. When he was tapped to direct this film I knew we would have something special as we haven’t had a horror director helm a superhero film since Sam Raimi on Spider-Man and Derrickson had a character that was mired in a much more horror themed branch of the Marvel Universe. On top of that Robert C Cargill, whom was a great collaborator for Derrickson having penned Sinister, was attached to cowrite the film with Derrickson. This was such a geek win because for those who don’t know Cargill started writing some of the best, loving and fair film reviews in his early twenties under the guise of Massawyrm on aintitcoolnews! I myself knew I was in for a treat of a movie when it had the Massawyrm seal of approval and this was a dream come true for Cargill whom had wanted to write a film since he was eight years old and said specifically he wanted to adapt one of his favorites, Dr. Strange. Filmmakers were set and now we just needed the Sorcerer Supreme himself. Both Joaquin Phoenix and Viggo Mortensen were in talks with Mortensen being my choice, but then came geek favorite Benedict Cumberbatch. I’m not going to lie, I’ve never cared about him. I thought his Khan was lazy, he was okay as Smaug and I’ve never watched Sherlock. He was always one of those geek figures that I never cared for and was not excited for his casting. I walked into this film thinking, “Well it’ll just be a cool action film.” I walked out with it being my second favorite Marvel film behind Guardians and saw on screen not Benedict Cumberbatch, but an amazing actor. What Cargill and Derrickson have crafted is not only a refreshingly new superhero film but an amazing standalone piece of epic cinema.
Dr. Stephen Strange is a brilliantly gifted surgeon who is rich and famous for performing nearly impossible and life saving procedures. The problem is his own hype has gotten to his head and his hunger for fame and glory outweighs his compassion for humanity and his Hippocratic Oath. In a karmatic twist of fate as he is driving to an award ceremony for himself, he hits a car and is run off the road crushing his hands beyond repair taking from him his only ways to achieve fame and glory. He spends his entire fortune trying to repair his hands and severs all his friendships in the process growing desperate and angry. He hears of a man who had completely lost his ability to walk but one day randomly managed to fix himself and began walking around normally. Strange seeks out this man and discovers that there is a place in Nepal called Kamar-Taj where the man learned ways to heal himself. Once in Kamar-Taj he meets a mystic being called The Ancient One who opens his eyes to the mystic world of spells and sorcery. During his teachings a great threat arises as a sorcerer named Kaecilius wishes to tap into darker magics to unleash upon the Earth. As Strange learns he quickly becomes a great sorcerer and is reluctantly forced into the mystical war, changing his outlook on life forever.
Benedict Cumberbatch makes one of the best character arcs in a Marvel movie since Tony Stark as Iron Man but at a much slower pace. He starts out as a real egotistical slime ball and turns into an embittered and groveling urchin. You pity him but kind of hate the twisted yet charming person he was. By the time you get into the sorcery aspect of his life he becomes completely charming though. Learning quickly and having great chemistry with other sorcerer’s such as Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo and Benedict Wong as Wong. They all have great back and forths sprinkled with humor and insightful dialogue on their character’s views of life which Strange constantly questions but keeps his mind open to. The training sequences with Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One are so much fun as she has a dark sense of humor in some of the ways she forces Strange into learning. The chemistry these actors build together in a short period of time is incredible. I just can’t get over how much I loved Cumberbatch as Strange having all these epic moments that you can’t help but cheer for but by far my favorite is when he receives his cape. The cape itself is a character on its own that steals a good bit of the movie. When he flies for the first time with the cape flowing behind him there is a perfect musical score accompanying it that had me in awe of the perfect combination of filmmaking and character work that built up and earned the spectacle of that moment.
Michael Giacchino has worked on scores for over a hundred films and video games from UP to the upcoming Rogue One and has set the musical tone for so many rebooted or sequelized classics that have come to us like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Jurassic World and Star Trek. Each classic film having its own beautiful score that resonated with so many, but Giacchino was able to create new invigorating scores that illicit those same beautiful feelings. Here he is on a whole other level creating a classic film score that harkens back to an old black and white Universal Monster film combined with the scope of a summer blockbuster. The soundtrack is something you will not hear in any other Marvel movie and is something I haven’t loved in a superhero film since the scores of Nolan’s Batman films. It sets the tone of the film perfectly and compliments the scope and grandeur of the visuals we see heightening the action sequences and taking our ears to other dimensions just as the visuals make our eyes believe.
I am very rarely one to compliment any form of CGI but this is some of the best CGI I have ever seen. It’s no surprise as Disney takes more and more advantage of its Lucasfilm acquisition with Industrial Light and Magic helping bring these computer graphics to life. The biggest sin with CGI is shooting scenes with actors having no rhyme or reason in their interactions with what is clearly not there. No weight to these objects. No real inherent danger and no sense of majesty at what imagination is in front of the actors who are stuck with the green screen. Derrickson’s greatest accomplishment is his ability to give these computer generated objects shadow and lighting. The actors look like they are conjuring spells as they struggle to hold colorful beams of light in their hands and throw these spells across to another actor with perceivable weight. As these CGI structures move from these finger tips and alter reality light, shadow and reflection is also cast. With that said, when Strange goes into other dimensions that were hinted at and vaguely seen in Ant-Man, they are glorious. Steve Ditko’s artwork that defied imagination was fully displayed across the screen and my jaw dropped.
This film also has some of the most satisfying fight scenes I have ever had the pleasure of watching. Think Jedi who move like airbenders and everything cool about inception but way more satisfying. It’s pure glorious wire work and people jumping all over the place with mystical weapons and sparks of light emitting from fingertips as others alter reality and open holes in the fabric of reality dropping people from the side of buildings into the sky. People shifting the ground at one another and other’s making weapons out of nothingness to stab each other! My favorite fight though is between one of Kaecilius’s followers and Strange as both have left their bodies and are fighting on the Astral Plane! Ghost like figures throwing one another through a building as their spirits presence jolt electronics and take out lights like a haunting is occurring! It’s one of the most satisfying and thrilling things to watch!
Now as I gush over this film it has one minor flaw and that’s a weak villain. Madds Mikkelson is an amazing actor who does best with what he has in bringing Kaecilius to life but he just doesn’t have too much screen time to get his own story across. His story and tragedy is alluded to, but not enough to truly make you care about him as a villain. However he is just a pawn for an even greater villain in the film that gave me goosebumps to see on the screen in all his glory. This particular villain is also performed by Benedict Cumberbatch and the fight between Strange and this villain is a spectacle that is won gloriously more by brilliance than braun. Making up for the lack of Mikkelson’s villainy for me, but I am also a huge fanboy for this character.
Cargill and Derrickson threw so many Easter eggs in this film it’s not even funny with two post credit scenes that tie Strange into the Marvel Universe and prepare you for what’s to come in future Strange sequels. The beauty of this film is it’s something so different than any of the other super hero films we’ve seen thus far. For those who are tired of the constant connectivity of the Marvel films you will also love how standalone this movie is. It being a whole other side of the Marvel Universe we’ve yet to see it doesn’t concern itself with connecting to the other films yet fits perfectly into the mix. This is something truly special we’ve gotten from these filmmakers and I loved the films beauty in making me believe and its ability to make me feel and care for these amazing characters. 4.5 out of 5 mystical weapons!