Certificate 12A, 115 minutes
Director: Scott Derrickson
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams
Doctor Strange opens with what appear to be monks entering into a monastery somewhere. Another monk, possibly the librarian, in what looks like a library, where some of the books are chained to the shelves, is surrounded by quite a few monks, who restrain him using what appear to be whips made of light and then their leader (Mads Mikkelsen) kills him. The leader takes one of the chained books and tear out several pages, when another figure enters the library. The invaders flee out a door to arrive in what appears to be London. The invaders and the single monk then fight in a reality-changing battle, transforming buildings and altering gravity, yet nobody seems to notice this (for reasons which will come apparent later). The figure who caused the attackers to flee from the library easily defeats many of them before their leader opens a portal and the remainder flee through it, still in possession of the stolen pages.
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an extremely talented neurosurgeon in New York City, capable of doing complex brain surgery with his hands. He is brilliant and more than a little arrogant, preferring to choose cases that are interesting or that could benefit him in some way, and he makes a lot of money doing so. Strange isn't really a bad man, but he is pretty egotistical. He had a previous relationship with ER doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams, About Time, A Most Wanted Man), who still apparently has feelings for Strange, although she definitely finds him difficult.
Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Doctor_Strange_poster.jpgStrange is out driving in his sports car with an assistant sending him details on cases (one of which related to a US Air Force officer who got his spine crushed in an accident with experimental armour; this may be related to a brief clip in Iron Man 2 where a Hammer Industries armour suit malfunctioned), before he finally receives one that he considers interesting. At which point he clips another vehicle and his sports car goes off the road in a pretty horrific car accident, one so bad it's surprising he could have survived it (just prior to the post credits scene, after the usual 'this stuff is all made up' disclaimer - which is sometimes more believable than others - there is a message about how distracted driving is dangerous; something that seems a little out of place until you remember that Strange's accident was caused by him being distracted).
When Strange comes around after the accident, his fingers are all wired up. He has got multiple pins in his fingers and has suffered permanent nerve damage to them, causing them to tremble when he tries to use them. Not a good thing for a surgeon who depends on his hands; he will certainly not be able to carry out surgery. This also results in him growing a beard as he is unable to use a manual razor. Strange tries experimental treatment after experimental treatment, all of which fail and all of which are expensive, burning through his money with no income to replace it. Increasingly bitter, strange drives Christine away.
Strange's physical therapist had mentioned to him about how a person with even worse nerve damage had overcome it, and manages to dig the details out of the archives and send them to him. When Strange goes to meet the man, Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt, Despicable Me 2, Ride Along 2), Pangborn recognises him, as Strange had turned him away as incurable after the former injured his spine. Yet Pangborn is walking around after suffering what should have been permanent paralysis. Unsurprisingly, Strange wants to know how he overcame his nerve damage.
Pangborn says that after medicine failed him, he turned to his mind, eventually ending up at a place called Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu, Nepal, where he became able to walk again. Strange spends the last of his money to get to the monastery, being rescued along the way by Master Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor, The Martian, Triple 9) - whose character is a bit different to the one in the comic books. Strange is introduced to the Sorcerer Supreme, the shaven-headed peculiarly androgynous Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), but he is less than convinced by her claims at first, including that Earth is just one place in a multiverse. At least until she gives him a rather impressive demonstration. However, the Ancient One initially refuses to teach Strange, as he reminds her far too much of a former, also talented, pupil of hers called Kaecilius.
Kaecilius was the one who stole the pages at the beginning of the film, and the Ancient One was the person who caused him to flee. What Kaecilius wants to do is open a portal to the Dark Dimension and bring through a powerful being called Dormammu (whose features were actually based on motion captures of Cumberbatch's). Strange has no interest in stopping Kaecilius, as he still is really only interested in himself and fixing his hands, but he gets dragged into anyway, gaining a snazzy new cloak in the process, and has to actually grow as a person, becoming less self-obsessed (he might not be quite a narcissist, but he probably has narcissistic tendencies).
The film is available in both 2D and 3D with the 3D version being the one watched. With the extensive use of magic and distorting worlds, this is one of the types of live action films where 3D actually works well. The effects themselves are pretty spectacular, with the close up magic used in combat and the literally world-bending, reality-warping effects seen in some of the major scenes. All rather different from the usual superhero fare (which is now a bit common); indeed, Doctor Strange was intended to be something a bit different from the norm when he was created.
For a long time, the fantasy genre suffered in its depictions in film and television, only really being more flexible in animation. It would appear to have been harder to accurately portray magic on the screen than science fiction; starships could, after all, be made from models, whilst magic had to have actual people as well. Most of the more successful depictions were variations on the fairly basic sword & sorcery concept of 'man/woman with big sword defeats evil sorcerer/sorceress' (Willow was a variant where the 'man with big sword' was simply the helper). The more original ideas were largely left by the wayside, but it's doubtful they could have been properly executed.
With the new century, the technology to do a decent job of a fantasy film had finally arrived, with the successful Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchises. So, finally, it was possible to bring one of Marvel's more unusual superheroes to the big screen in an effective way (there was a Doctor Strange film in the Seventies and a new version had been in the works for many years). And it's done pretty impressively. The gestures for summoning magic and the battle scenes in which these are used are really quite a joy to watch, and quite a bit of time was spent on developing the hand movements themselves. There are also some moments of humour scattered throughout the film, especially when Strange tries to get a laugh out of the monastery's new librarian, Wong (Benedict Wong) and his first confrontation with Kaecilius.
The characters themselves are interesting, and many of even the 'good guys' are less than perfect, not just Strange himself. Often they do the best they can, but sometimes they have to do things that they don't like. Kaecilius, too, is not a pure bad guy - he actually thinks that he's going to benefit the Earth by eliminating time and death by calling on Dormammu. This makes him a rather more interesting character - someone who is also trying to do what he thinks is the right thing, using the wrong methods - methods that he himself isn't entirely happy about, but which he feels are necessary. One complaint is that Strange's relationship with Dr. Palmer doesn't really get enough screen time. The relationship is interesting, and the latter character seems to be unusually flexible when it comes to matters outside her comfort zone - far more flexible than Strange himself in fact. So it's a shame that more time isn't spent on their relationship. Stan Lee has one of his common cameos. Interestingly, he is reading Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception - interesting in what is happening during the time he is reading it.
This is the latest instalment in Marvel's Cinematic Universe, although there aren't that many references to it. There are such as the previously mentioned presumed reference to Iron Man 2, a passing reference to the Avengers and a subtle reference related to the Eye of Agamotto just prior to the end of the film. The last is related to an ongoing plot thread that has been in many of the different films to date. The biggest reference is in the mid credits scene, which would appear to be leading into the next Thor movie. There is also the previously mentioned post credits scene, which points towards a sequel. Finally, the technology was here to do a proper film of this type, and Doctor Strange brings a, in parts literally, new dimension to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in a visually spectacular and entertaining film.