My first introduction to Doctor Strange was a TV movie that was produced in 1978. I haven’t seen it since then (although that will change soon, because I’ve recently discovered that it’s available on video,), but I remember liking it very much at the time. My father, upon hearing that I had enjoyed this tele-film, proceeded to get me the Doctor Strange comics. To say that the comics were psychedelic head trips on paper is putting it mildly. Doctor Strange ventured into mystical realms that were best described as an LSD trip without the LSD. Once exposed to the comics, my love of the TV movie lessened, as I realized just how lame the movie was, compared to the unrestrained imagination on display within the vibrant panels of the comics.
This was why, when they announced that Marvel was producing a cinematic version of the Sorcerer Supreme, I was eager to see it. Not restrained by the meager budget of a TV film (nor the limited special effects of the 1970s), I figured that a new Doctor Strange film would finally be unfettered and just as crazy as it wants to be. And Doctor Strange, the latest superhero saga to emerge on the Marvel cinematic assembly line, does not disappoint. Benedict Cumberpatch, the modern day Sherlock, plays the lead role of Dr. Steven Strange, a brilliant (and arrogant) surgeon who loses the use of his hands in a car accident.
Hearing of a man who used alternative methods of healing himself from paralysis, Strange follows his lead and seeks the advice of the Ancient One (the always great Tilda Swinton), a powerful mystic who winds up teaching Strange far more than just regaining the use of his hands. There is a secret society of sorcerers who protect the Earth from full-on assaults from other-worldly realms, but this society of protectors is under attack by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his followers. Strange soon finds himself taking up arms–of the magical kind–to defeat this new threat to Earth.
Scott Derrickson, who directed the Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister, helms DS, and he’s the perfect choice. Having plenty experience in imaginative scary movies, Derrickson adeptly handles the Strange proceedings with aplomb, and in retrospect it makes sense to hire a director with horror movies in his wheelhouse, because Doctor Strange is the closest thing to a horror film that the Marvel universe has. But in this case, Doctor Strange feels more like a dark fantasy tale that’s a blend of Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury and the ending of 2001. As weird as that may sound, Derrickson makes it all work very nicely.
Cumberpatch proves to be perfect casting as Strange, truly becoming the character in a rousing scene where he literally rises up in the air, his cape flowing, to confront a baddie. Tilda Swinton gives her usual excellent performance, where she seemingly shape-shifts into another character made fully rounded just by her performance alone. Rachel McAdams is also extremely good, making the most of the thankless role of the girlfriend who gets left behind. Her wide-eyed reaction to Doctor Strange–who appears in her hospital, seeking medical attention–and the weirdness he brings with him is endearing to watch. Filled with imaginative eye candy that will make this a must-see on Blu-Ray, Doctor Strange is a fun ride through the mystic realms and beyond. –SF