Doctor Strange: special effects and a great story

It all began in 2008 with Tony Stark developing that famed red suit that would save the world. Not to forget those cocky one-liners that accompanied each successful Iron Man mission. The Hulk transitioned from Edward Norton (2008) to settle on the affable Mark Ruffalo (2012). Despite being a villain, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki catapulted to fame, perhaps more than his brother Thor (2011) played by Chris Hemsworth. Then we watched Captain America go from puny everyday man to an immortal patriotic soldier in the same year. Parks and Recreation’s pudgy Chris Pratt transformed into the hunky Peter Quill/ Star-Lord for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1 (2014). Last year, Paul Rudd took matters into his (literally) shrunken hands in AntMan. And most recently, they all came together to battle out their opinions in Captain America: Civil War after two Avengers films and plenty of other sequels.

There have been a staggering 13 films in Marvel’s cinematic universe. The latest offering is a new superhero, one that makes all the others seem ordinary. Especially since the film’s protagonist has the inimitable ability to breathe new life into characters. After all, Benedict Cumberbatch did do for BBC One’s Sherlock Holmes what no one else could have done.

With the latest Marvel marvel, we’re introduced to Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), an arrogant, self-centred neurosurgeon who thinks he can do no wrong. It’s his fear of failure that’s compelling him to constantly succeed. A terrible accident leaves the brilliant doctor with mangled arms that have enough of nerve damage to ensure he doesn’t enter the operation theatre for a long, long time. A quest to heal leads Strange to a secret compound named Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu, where he encounters The Ancient One, a striking sorcerer played by a bald Tilda Swinton. With the help of fellow sorcerer Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Doctor Strange is transformed from an arrogant human into a powerful mystical being. As with any good story, the conflict in this film comes in the form of The Ancient One’s rogue pupil, the sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his zealots who aim to unleash the power of Dormammu (also played by an uncredited Cumberbatch) of the Dark Dimension onto the world. Essentially, this will result in the loss of time paving the way for immortality and of course, plenty of death and destruction.

Doctor Strange has plenty of action to keep you entertained; there’s hand-to-hand combat, mystical weapons, explosions and exciting fights, enough to avoid blinking lest you miss a moment. The Ancient One’s fight scenes are perhaps the coolest with a suave Swinton barely breaking a bead of sweat while effortlessly annihilating her enemies. Then there are the mind-bending visual effects where the world literally turns on itself; one battle sequence has New York transform into a river of glass buildings. And the film’s Mirror dimension brings the beauty of the comic books to life … in technicolour.

As for Doctor Strange, Cumberbatch perfectly encapsulates his character’s fall from grace and his eventual rise into a superhero who accepts his purpose to save lives using mystical abilities. It does help that he’s hilarious along the way. Some of the best lines are saved for Strange trying to make Kamar-Taj’s sombre librarian Wong (Benedict Wong) crack a smile. Even his climactic encounter with the big bad Dormammu has giggle-inducing moments. But perhaps most endearing is Strange’s relationship with the Cloak of Levitation, a mystical coat that’s alive (and kicks the bad guys’ behinds), akin to a loving pet.

Marvel’s Doctor Strange subverts the usual superhero trope, focusing on the universal lessons of quashing the ego and rising above it while giving the audience everything they’d need in a film adapted from a comic book. There’s grandiosity, humour, cockiness, plenty of dishy actors and a plot that will capture attention. Once the adrenaline of the effects and thrills has settled, you’ll see that this Marvel film doesn’t simply entertain. Don’t gasp just as yet, but there are plenty of spiritual undertones lurking in plain view, only if you’re willing to see. If not, it’s still a great two hours of non-stop fun.

Rating: Four stars

Director: Scott Derrickson

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Mads Mikkelsen, and Tilda Swinton.

Run time: 115 mins

Genre: Superhero

Synopsis: Doctor Strange is looking to heal his broken hands, but in the process learns to become a superhero who's a sorcerer with mystical abilities

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 2:20:46 PM |

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