Saturday, November 26, 2016

Dr. Strange: Dizzyingly Delightful

I've never taken LSD but I imagine parts of Dr. Strange are akin to experiencing a thoroughly spectacular acid trip. The fourteenth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this movie lends a fresh twist to the superhero genre by introducing magic and sorcery to the proceedings.

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the eponymous Stephen Strange, a renowned New York neurosurgeon with a perfect surgical record. He takes difficult, interesting cases, but only if he is certain they can be successful, and like many surgeons of my acquaintance, the man is arrogance personified. His ex-girlfriend, Christine (Rachel McAdams), is a trauma surgeon at the same hospital and they have a good working relationship, if not a very fulfilling personal one. However, one day he gets into a terrible car crash, mangles his hands, and is told he will never be able to operate again. He spends all his money pursuing every available treatment until he finally ends up in Nepal, seeking a mysterious guru who allegedly helped a paralyzed man walk again.

At a compound called Kamar-Taj, Strange meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her protege, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). After your standard bout of scientific skepticism, he is convinced that there really is a multiverse brimming with magic and miracles, and he might be able to access them to heal his hands. Therein begins his training and the subsequent battle with the dark sorcerers, led by the Ancient One's former protege, Kaecelius (Mads Mikkelsen), who is, of course, trying to use the ancient magic to gain immortality.

This film features astonishing visuals. As people jump through worlds and alter their surroundings with a wave of their hands, conjuring fiery spells and icy weapons, your eyes will be assaulted with beauty and wonderment. I am reliably informed that parts of the film's jaw-dropping aesthetic are a direct ode to the comic books, so there is plenty to satisfy the Marvel purists as well as the casual enthusiasts like myself. The teachings of the Ancient One are a fascinating mix of classic philosophy, meditation, and Marvel gobbledygook that don't overwhelm the plot but clearly allow Strange's development from a selfish surgeon to a superhero sorcerer. And the acting is top notch, with every actor delivering action, drama, and flashes of humor to keep things moving at a briskly entertaining pace. Cumberbatch's American accent is a tad tortured, but you won't be paying attention to it once you're transported to the Mirror Dimension.

At a brief two hours, this is a fairly short movie for Marvel and a winning addition to their canon. It follows the standard formula but adds so many genuinely breathtaking special effects that I was spellbound. Michael Giacchino's score is also remarkable, featuring jangly synth music that is both unnerving and amusing, reminding you that strange things are afoot but they will all get sorted out in the end. So watch Dr. Strange and don't give in to superhero fatigue. Every year I think I will reach a point when I am over Marvel, and every year they prove me wrong by coming up with something new, silly, and a little bit strange.  

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