- Movie Rating -

Doctor Strange (2016)

| November 3, 2016

Benedict Cumberbatch is one of the rare actors who can pull off smug, self-serious arrogance without pushing you away. It is a fine line that he walks. You know he’s the smartest guy in the room, the guy who stands back while others yammer on with petty concerns until he grows tired of their misconceptions and happily takes them to school. It’s fascinating to watch. Cumberbatch has more or less built his career on this; it’s on display in his best performances in The Imitation Game and “Sherlock” and I’m happy to report that he uses it with great skill in the new Marvel adventure Doctor Strange and gives it a refreshing twist of grandiose humor.

Doctor Strange is often a very funny movie despite its world-ending narrative. The dialogue here feels fresh even though it has to fight for space amid the standard plot-throttling mystical garbledee-gook. Cumberbatch seems comfortable in the role because does deaden the role by being forced to be so serious all the time (Hello, Henry Cavill). When we meet Strange, he’s a guy who enjoys his job. He is Stephen Strange, a brilliant neurosurgeon with an ego the size of Kaminski Park and blessed with gifted hands that can perform miracles like threading a needle to remove a bullet fragment lodged deep inside a patient’s head. It’s only a small aside, but let me just say that unlike Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark or Oliver Queen, it’s nice to see a super-rich professional actually working 9 to 5 for his paycheck.


The gift is his self-reward. Strange has little regard for anyone else. He lives a lonely life that comes crashing down one night when he gets distracted driving his sports car around a hairpin turn and gets into a nasty accident that mangles his hands. Surgery after surgery fails to give him back the full use of hands that are now scarred and trembling. Strange retreats inward, refusing advice or help or encouragement from those around him, especially his former girlfriend Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). When medicine fails to restore his condition, he hears of a man who was crippled in an accident but now walks, a man he previously turned away for treatment. Demanding an explanation, he is led to Kathmandu where he is astonished to learn that the world is not all flesh and bone. Under tutelage of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her student Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Stephen is challenged to redirect his perceptions about the world around him and discover hidden dimension, revealing The Astral Plane and The Mirror Dimension. Through training he can manipulate time and space and . . . well, do all that CGI stuff you saw in the trailer.

The best parts of the movie are the bewildering of Strange’s perception. He’s a man of science, of practical medicine and the inner workings of the body. Now, he is challenged to rethink those ideas, to think outwardly and understand the larger exteriors beyond time, beyond space.

Of course, it’s all in the service of protecting the Earth from inner-dimensional beings. You already know that. This is the plot development of half the tent-pole movies made these days, but here it is given a boost from some phenomenal visual effects that should easily earn an Oscar nomination this spring. Like Inception, we see cities that bend and twist and turn back on themselves. They break apart like puzzle blocks and reform back into odd Escher-like configurations. It is really a sight to behold and I was so pleased that, for once, the visual effects were made with a purpose and not just a lot of chaos and noise. I was also pleased that the ending of the movie wasn’t just a smash and bash climax with no rhyme or reason. The writers got creative here and created not one, but two scenarios that were really quite creative. More I will not say.

Yet, all the great visuals take a back seat to a story that I actually cared about. Yesterday I saw Inferno which was about a world-ending virus that was threatening to destroy the world and I just didn’t care about the outcome. Here I knew the outcome but I was invested in what I was seeing. Much of that has to do with Cumberbatch who is serious when he needs to be and funny when the story calls for it. This is a very thoughtful script. It makes common sense considerations about the character that another screenwriter might have been happy to overlook. For example, after Strange kills a man in self-defense, he argues that it makes him a traitor to his Hippocratic Oath. Later when Mordo and The Ancient One invite him to join their secret army, he brings all the mystical ancient nonsense back to earth by reminding them “I just came here to get my hands fixed.” It sounds like a tiny thing but these are consideration that the audience is having. So, why shouldn’t the script?

Yet, I must also admit that the story in Doctor Strange is not the most original story in the world. I cared about what was going on but even still I must admit that it rides a story structure that owes more than a little to Iron Man in that here is another story of a genius mind brought down to Earth by a crippling injury but must learn to curb his arrogant nature and think of someone besides himself. The difference is that, unlike Stark, Strange has to make a much larger leap. He’s a surgeon, a man of science who coldly believes that human beings are built from nothing more than flesh, blood, cells and neurons. But when he becomes desperate, he finds that he must expand his perceptions and accept the mystical, magic possibilities previously unknown to him. The whole story is built on the idea that he must think of the world entire, rather than on his own concerns. The final shot of the movie is kind of brilliant in the way that it leaves him with an ethical conundrum. It’s kind of refreshing because I was considering it on the drive home. I don’t get to do that very often.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2016) View IMDB Filed in: Action