Review: Doctor Strange

Score: A-

Director: Scott Derrickson

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rated: PG-13


By now, we all know what to expect from a Marvel movie: some good set pieces, some funny character beats (in lieu of actual arcs) and a perfunctory story that really only serves to set up the next few movies. So color me surprised that Doctor Strange conjures everything it can out of its defined parameters and takes us to another dimension.


Benedict Cumberbatch plays Dr. Stephen Strange is an obscenely wealthy surgeon, the kind who aces risky procedures then drives like a bat out of hell to speaking engagements. He could not be more of a dick, and after seeing him play the poor man’s version of Daniel Day-Lewis’ role in A Room with a View for the last decade, it was nice to see him play a character with at least some personality.


After a car accident leaves him without the use of his gifted hands, he treks to Nepal, where he’s heard about a radical course of treatment. And he does find it, just not in the form he’s expecting. The Ancient One (played brilliantly by Tilda Swinton) introduces Strange to the world(s) of magic, even if she has to drag his arrogant ass through multiple dimensions to get there.


Doctor Strange has the densest plotting of any Marvel movie, but director Scott Derrickson keeps things flowing smoothly. This is an origin story, but it’s done so well that it doesn’t feel like a drag. We’re being rewarded with actual character building, and then as the icing on the cake, we get some mind-blowing set pieces. In one scene, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen, as suavely menacing as ever) opens up multiple worlds to prevent Strange and his distrustful fellow warrior Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) from escaping. The effect is like an MC Escher lithograph come to life. It’s disorienting in the best way, making great use of 3-D, something nearly all Marvel films have failed to do.


But even beyond the special effects, there’s plenty to admire here. The cast is uniformly excellent (even if Rachel McAdams is given nothing to do, sadly keeping with tradition) and the music (by Oscar winner Michael Giacchino) is actually memorable. But the biggest surprise has to do with how explicitly spiritual the film is. Even if it’s a big mix of eastern and western religions and philosophical mumbo-jumbo, the movie treats it seriously. There hasn’t been a blockbuster that grapples with faith on this scale since The Matrix.


So even though the movie’s finale follows the pre-ordained Marvel Climax – bad guy trying to level a city – its resolution takes a slightly different path. By the end, Doctor Strange has stretched the corners of its box as far as it can. And that really is magic.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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