Doctor Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is so brilliant that he doesn't know failure. He hasn't spent a day thinking about anyone but himself, yet he saves lives every day as the best neurosurgeon in New York. A massive car crash changes everything, and forces Strange to rewire his makeup and how he goes about things. In other words, he becomes a sorcerer.
Now, if you are like me and flinch when you hear the word "sorcerer and realms", the initial read of this film's plot may throw you for a loop. Doctors, ancient ones, realms, bending worlds, and people fighting on a split street. Co-writer/director Scott Derrickson takes those expectations and uses them to his advantage. There are several moments during this Marvel adventure where his script winks at the audience as if to say, "We know it's out there, but roll with us and you will be entertained."
The promise is kept and then some. Doctor Strange is a highly entertaining and intelligent throwback to good and evil where the noble worked in mysterious ways and stole a few shades of grey from the bad guys. Every Marvel adventure has to be a fun time at the very least and eventually build into something more. The origin tale of Strange is fertile ground for thinking man's action hysteria.
First, you need the right guy to play the main man with the quirky red cape, and Cumberbatch fits the mold perfectly. The Oscar-nominated Brit knows his way around the hidden humor of the role and never treats a dramatic scene with too heavy of a handle. You instantly buy into the idea of this guy going from working on brains to creating new worlds and realms for people to jump in and out of. He's great choice and it's vital because the audience is living through Strange's revelations right there with him. The astounded look is contagious here.
Tilda Swinton is the right step for the Ancient One who teaches Strange to see things in a different light, and Chiwetel Ejiofor is a cool blend of action hero as Mordo, her second in command who helps mold Strange into a fighter. Mads Mikkelson may be the bloody eyed villain from Casino Royale to most, but he creates a new kind of evil here as the outcast, Kaecilius. The Danish actor knows how to underplay a bad guy just right. He doesn't look like a well meaning man.
Rachel McAdams is the doctor friend/girlfriend of Strange, helping him and others along the way as battles and fights over ownership of the world or bomb or something weird takes place. She could share a drink with Rosario Dawson's nurse from the Netflix films, because they each are thrown into harm's way to help men they sort of love yet can't get far away from. Every Marvel adventure needs a good female presence.
The special effects strike a perfect balance between fresh cool and groundbreaking without entering the silly no way zone. There are reminders from films like Christopher Nolan's Inception in the fight scenes and when things get hairy in Nepal or Chinatown, an entire city isn't wrecked. Buildings aren't toppled in a fight. Just a few shops and tables on a street. Instead of staying big all the time, Doctor Strange knows when to play the small game.
The result is a smart and energetic action adventure with a long shelf life and plenty of sequels and crossover appeal. This movie is never boring and there are funny moments to balance the action (especially those involving Strange's red cape troubles). This is a classic origin tale that reminded of the first Iron Man film in 2008. A cocky brilliant man with too much swagger and money for his own good who learns a harsh lesson and is reborn. Sub in a better bad guy and you have this new release.
If you are a Marvel film addict, this is a must watch. If you are a casual fan of the comic films, check it out because this could appeal to you. If you don't like the films, take a ride with three Oscar nominated actors trying on Marvel apparel and trust their abilities because this is a fun ride.
Doctor Strange is worth your time and hard-earned money. You might even see me sitting next to you this weekend as I take it in a second time.
Pro Tip: There are two credits teaser scenes so stay put. One midway and one at the very end. Stay for both because they are each well played and leave a loose string flailing in the wind.