It takes an amazing cast to make goofy material work, and this movie has both.
Marvel movies have been around so long, they’ve transitioned from feeling like momentous events to being like episodes of a very expensively made television series. We see the same characters interacting with each other in different ways, with plot threads being left open for the next film to pick up on. The newest movie from the series, Doctor Strange, breaks this pattern and creates an entirely new set of characters set in both the universe we’ve seen and ones we haven’t yet seen.
Benedict Cumberbatch leads an impressive cast as the titular Doctor Stephen Strange (his real name), a brilliant neurosurgeon with an ego the size of his gigantic apartment filled with very expensive watches. One night, he’s driving his sports car a little too fast down a rainy road while being distracted by some medical imagery and he tumbles off the road, leaving him with nerve damage that will prevent him from being the incredibly skilled surgeon he once was. Hearing of a miracle cure that involves traveling to Kathmandu, he goes there to seek it out and finds much, much more.
What he finds looks a lot like Inception, with folding realities and fight scenes on giant moving citiscapes. He finds dialog about spells and mysticism and multiple universes and astral projections, and stuff that would sound like the worst material ever written if it weren’t for the incredible cast assembled here. Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ojiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams and Benedict Wong all bring their impressive acting chops to the table and make it all work. There’s a fair amount of timely, topical character humor here as well, and it’s all played with a light touch.
Visually, the film tries to do a lot of impressive things, with the aforementioned folding realities, spells that create dimensional portals, secondary bodies floating through space, but these are actually the weak points of the movie. We don’t need another CGI fight scene, and the ones here are just tiresome bores after the first time we see the powers of the characters that inhabit this world.
Part of the disappointment with the visual look has to do with the 3D presentation of the film. Different 3D systems perform differently, and the Dolby 3D system at our screening was particularly terrible, like watching the movie through a darkened prism. Your mileage may vary, and your 3D presentation might be good, but I can’t recommend seeing it this way unless you know it will be. The only way to know for sure that your experience won’t be a grayed out blurry mess? See it in 2D, where you can be sure the famous red Cloak of Levitation will be red and not muddy brown.
Overall, Doctor Strange is an enjoyable film whose stakes feel small. In this way, it’s similar to the first Thor film, which mostly did the work of introducing its own corner of the world to you without some gigantic end-of-the-world scenario. This time, though, we get one of those, and the movie spends no time explaining why our growing team of Marvel adventurers can’t get involved, which seemed a little off to me. Other than a throwaway line about an Infinity Stone, there’s not much here that ties this story into our greater Marvel storyline. Doctor Strange stands on its own as a typical comic book origin story, with fine actors delivering ridiculous lines in a CGI multiverse.