Doctor Strange: Cumberbatch Spellbinds in Wondrous Origin Story [Review]

by | Nov 2, 2016

Marvel Studios’ ever-growing cinematic universe continues to impress. After introducing audiences to The Avengers, the studio started to venture into the lesser-known territory of their comic book catalogue in hopes of reaching more than just fans of the superhero genre. Most recently, they won over general audiences with movies such as a space opera that featured a gun-toting, talking raccoon and a comedic heist with a man in a suit that could reduce him to the size of an ant. Now, Marvel Studios goes further down the rabbit hole with Doctor Strange, which introduces magic to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) leading the way as the Sorcerer Supreme, not only is Doctor Strange a dazzling psychedelic journey, but it is also the best Marvel Studios origin story since Iron Man.  


Dr. Stephen Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) life changes after a car accident robs him of the use of his hands. When traditional medicine fails him, he looks for healing, and hope, in a mysterious enclave. He quickly learns that the enclave is at the front line of a battle against unseen dark forces bent on destroying reality. Before long, Strange is forced to choose between his life of fortune and status or leave it all behind to defend the world as the most powerful sorcerer in existence.

If there is one negative about Doctor Strange (and it’s only negative in the formulaic sense) it’s how Marvel Studios sets up these original movies. We’re introduced to *insert protagonist here*, who goes through a journey, thanks to a * insert climatic event that changes his life*, which thrusts him into a situation that raises the stakes due to a * insert shoehorned villain that doesn’t get enough screen time*. Sure, it’s the basis for how most superhero movies in general are set up, but it feels predictable. But the magical element in Doctor Strange puts a new twist on the origin story that also will have people rushing to Google after the movie to see how they did it.

The effect bends reality and shows that there’s more than meets the eye in a world full of superheroes saving earth from physical elements. Combining magical elements with arresting visuals (with a pinch of the “weird factor” mixed in, as well), this transfixed vision from director Scott Derrickson (Sinister) results in an exciting origin story. We are clearly in a new area of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that warrants further exploration in future sequels. This movie also should serve as a key to Marvel Studios’ projects that bring together their other characters when the universe is at stake (Avengers: Infinity War?).  


Doctor Strange would not work without Benedict Cumberbatch, who is stupendous as the doctor-turned-magical sorcerer. Cumberbatch’s Strange and Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man are strikingly similar, but in the best way possible. Arrogant, yet charismatic, and, at times, comedic, both superheroes bring out the best in the other talented actors with whom they interact. Cumberbatch is just what the doctor ordered (pun-intended) for Marvel Studios, who was in need of a new, intriguing character to help shape (another pun-intended) their cinematic universe.

Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) in her role as the Ancient One is almost as good as Cumberbatch. Teaching Doctor Strange the mystical arts of perception, Swinton plays the all-powerful one with poise and surprising satire; Swinton’s performance is, quite arguably, the best supporting character in a Marvel Studios movie to date. In smaller roles, Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) is more than capable as Mordo, a student of the Ancient One who is sure to play a much larger role in Doctor Strange sequels. Benedict Wong (The Martian) is sturdy as Wong, one of the Masters of Mystic Arts tasked with protecting important relics and books. Rachel McAdams (Mean Girls) brings much needed humanity as a fellow surgeon and friend to Doctor Strange.

And Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) is all right as Kaecilius, the main villain. Much like the other Marvel Studios movies, Mikkelsen’s antagonist character does not add much to the overall scope of the story. While he is a threat, we’re not given much backstory for what motivates him to venture down the dark path in a story almost entirely focused on the introduction of Doctor Strange.


Aside from Cumberbatch, the best thing about Doctor Strange are the visual effects that go hand-in-hand with the action sequences, both of which are the best in a Marvel Studios movie to date. With mind-bending effects that actually make the experience worth seeing in 3D (especially IMAX 3D if you have access), the viewer is immersed in a kaleidoscope of intoxicating action sequences that never cease to amaze. But of all the many visual effects in Doctor Strange, the ones in the third act alone are worth the price of admission. Imagine if you will a world built out of LEGOs stripped of its physical elements and gravity with dye split on the set. Action sequences like the ones seen in the third act of Doctor Strange beg to be seen on the big screen.


Doctor Strange adds to, “the Marvel standard,” where audiences walk into the theater with high expectations. But even so, Doctor Strange is like no previous adventure from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, which now features 14 movies. Where the Marvel Cinematic Universe is heading is anybody’s bet, but Doctor Strange reinvents the wheel with an auspiciously new era of characters that are sure to bring more people into the experience with every passing movie. For now, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Hulk are the main superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but we know that eventually they will cease to be a part of that world. And if Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange happens to replace any of the current leading superheroes and gets to play a bigger role in the overall landscape of this entire cinematic universe, then I’m all for it.

Rating: [star rating=”4″]