Benedict Cumberbatch Chiwetel Ejiofor Rachel McAdams Benedict Wong Mads Mikkelsen Tilda Swinton Benjamin Bratt
Spectacular special effects makes this comic book story come alive in a special way, perhaps because it captures a child’s imagination and puts it on the screen. We see it as a child with a vivid imagination may in reading a comic book. Its exciting and mystically fascinating tale conjures up mythology and the spirit world with heroes and villains, and throws out paradoxes for us to consider. (Must we sometimes commune with the dark side in order to achieve good? Must we have death in order to have life?)
The film has numerous comical lines and jokes (e.g., a mystical reference that is actually a wi-fi password), but perhaps the biggest one is its riff on doctors who have a reputation for their arrogance, ambition, and stubbornness. The star, Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), is certainly supposed to shed this in his pursuit of shamanic knowledge, but part of the spoof is its tenacity on the heroic doctor.
Dr. Strange is at the height of his career as an esteemed neurosurgeon in New York; he can choose his patients (accepting only those that will pad his reputation), be dismissive and over-rule the staff, and is essentially the king of his realm. His residence is fashionable with a stunning view of the city, and his car the most expensive and sportiest. But lo, he roars out one evening to attend a lecture honoring him, when…Don’t text and drive folks!
Yes, he is pulled out of a ravine, but has lost the use of his golden hands, which throws him into an existential crisis and angry depression, for he is empty inside without his career. He brushes off his one friend Christine (McAdams), a colleague trying to help him, and in desperation heads for Kamar-Taj, a healing place in Kathmandu, Nepal, where he hopes for a miracle. His physical therapist had told him about a “hopeless” patient who had regained his physical abilities after its help. “It will be costly”, the healed man (Bratt) informs him, but of course this was not a monetary reference.
Once he finds the place, Strange blusters in, completely unaware of a different universe and way of being. While there, he will make discoveries he had never imagined in his empirically anchored life, and it will change him forever in no way that he ever anticipated. He certainly becomes a nicer person, but that is only part of it. He will strive to become a real hero with dimensions far beyond his previous accomplishments.
Scott Derrickson, writer (with others) and director and his filmmaking team (Ben Davis, cinematography; Michael Giacchino, music; Charles Wood, production design; Ray Chan, art; and all the special effects group) have crafted an entertaining film with visual, musical, and literary qualities that should appeal to children and adults alike, one that contains rich material for thought and discussion after viewing.
Casting is perfect, with Cumberbatch as one who is equally skilled in portraying narcissism, extraordinary intelligence, and charity all in the same character. Mikkelsen seems equally talented in portraying all different types of characters, with the one here being the epitome of evil. A real coup with this film is casting Tilda Swinton as the “Ancient One”—we’re as surprised as Strange is that “he” is a “she.” Swinton can play any exotic character a writer can come up with, elevating it with her own imagination.
I was a little sorry at the end of this film to see that it was extended for 15-20 minutes too long, and that there was the now popular teaser for a sequel. If only the filmmakers/investors could learn from their main characters!
This is a finely crafted action film with artistic merit.
Grade: A- By Donna R. Copeland