Cinema Spotlight on Scott Derrickson Part VI: Doctor Strange
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Back when Scott Derrickson tackled a big-budget blockbuster, The Day the Earth Stood Still, it didn’t go well; now he is given a second chance with the latest entry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange.
Stephen Strange (Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch) is a talented but arrogant neurosurgeon, whose career comes to a tragic end after a car accident leaves his hands in ruins. A once respected medical doctor now reduced to a lost and broken man. After failing to find any means for an immediate remedy he learns of the mysterious Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who doesn’t offer a cure for his weak hands, but a spiritual healing for the bitter man that he has become and a second chance to save lives through the mystic and magical arts. From there, Strange begins his training as a sorcerer but when Earth is threatened by Kaecilius (Hannibal’s Mads Mikkelsen) a former student of the Ancient One and plans to bring a malevolent power from another dimension, a reluctant Strange must take up the cape and be the hero he never thought to be.
While I enjoy the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as fun popcorn entertainment I never saw them as amazing films, with the exception of the first two Iron Man films and the first Avengers movie. After seeing this I am happy to report that Doctor Strange joins the ranks as one the best Marvel movies and one of my favorite superhero movies. The only thing I knew about this Marvel character before the film was announced was that he was a sorcerer who used magic to fight evil, courtesy of the 1994 Spiderman cartoon. I was surprised that Benedict Cumberbatch, one of the most prolific actors got to portray the titular character and much like the movie, it does not disappoint. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s a movie that stands on its own without the need watching any of the previous Marvel films. There are some tiny details and a cameo but it’s kept to a minimum and doesn’t distract from the movie. Another thing found in these Marvel movies is that it always feels incomplete even with its resolution; there are moments that allude to a sequel here but it’s given a proper close until the next installment for it to be addressed like Sam Raimi did with his Spider-Man Trilogy
Everyone in the cast is spot on from Benedict Cumberbatch who wonderfully fits into the role, as we see him evolve from an egotistic jerk to a self-less hero. His scenes with Rachel McAdams (Mean Girls and Spotlight) are cute, funny and one of the better love interests in a Marvel movie. While Mikkelsens’s Kaecilius isn’t as memorable as Tom Hiddleston’s Loki he is still more menacing and two-dimensional than many of the previous bland Marvel villains as you understand his motivations and isn’t evil just because the plot says so. Rounding up the cast is Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) as Karl Mordo, a loyal student of the Ancient One, Benedict Wong (The Martian) as a no-nonsense librarian sorcerer who provided some of the film’s funniest moments and Tilda Swinton (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe) who despite the controversy surrounding her casting, worked really well in the role.
Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange joins the list of Derrickson’s protagonists from Father Moore (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) Klatuu (The Day the Earth Stood Still) the unnamed deputy (Sinister 2), as well as Sarchie and Father Mendoza (Deliver Us From Evil) as characters thrust into a dangerous situation only they can face because there isn’t anyone else who can. Belief and spirituality are presented when Strange doubts the Ancient One’s teachings to which she responds with quotes like “You think you know how the world works. You think this material universe is all there is.”
Saving the best for last, I can’t remember the last time I was dazzled by the visual effects in a superhero movie. A mixture of the dream sequences in Inception and the final scene of 2001’s A Space Odyssey came to mind when buildings were being folded and twisted, along with the kaleidoscopic journeys into other dimensions. Watching this film on the small screen will not do it justice, like Gravity and Avatar it needs to be seen on the big screen.
If I had one problem with the film is that I wish a montage could have been used during Strange’s magic training as it never specifies how much time is passing. In one scene we see him struggling with a spell and then in the next scene he all of a sudden is able to master it.
Final Thoughts: Despite using a familiar storyline found in countless films like Iron Man and Green Lantern, Scott Derrickson manages to craft a superhero film that is funny, action-packed, mind-bending and a bit philosophical. Check it out and prepare to be amazed.