With all the vast elements in the Marvel cinematic universe — from Norse gods and armored knights to colorful aliens and a guy who can shrink down and talk to ants — the magical realm has been underserved.
That all changes with the Nov. 4 release of “Doctor Strange,” which brings the Sorcerer Supreme — co-created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee in 1963 — into this world with a spellbinding debut.
Benedict Cumberbatch leads an impressive cast as Dr. Stephen Strange, a surgeon whose unbelievable talent is rivaled only by his ego. It’s this hubris that has him racing around a slippery mountainside, preoccupied with pictures on his phone of the next medical mystery he wants to solve instead of focusing on the road. This results in a horrific accident, with his precious hands bearing the brunt of the damage. Oh, the irony.
Strange is a broken man, physically and emotionally. He turns away his seemingly only friend and former lover, Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), and goes to any ends to repair his hands, which once were steady and precise but now have extensive nerve damage and constantly shake.
Strange’s last resort has him off to Nepal to Kamar-Taj, a mystical enclave where he seeks the Ancient One (shockingly bald Tilda Swinton), expecting some New Age solution. Upon arrival, Strange is presented with the idea of magic rather than science. Like any man of science would be, he’s initially a disbeliever, but after an out-of-body experience and plenty of magical displays, he’s on board for his new training. At his side is another one of the Ancient One’s students, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and the librarian Wong (Benedict Wong).
Of course, there’s some world-ending situation, and presto, your newest Marvel superhero.
It’s hard to say that “Doctor Strange” is unique within the superhero movie subgenre. All the basic tenets are there, with good fighting evil — here in the form of Kaecilius, a rogue wizard played by Mads Mikkelsen — a troubled soul learning how to become a hero, fight scenes galore and a despotic entity working to destroy the world. It’s the dressing that changes, and the handling of those familiar tropes.
With the deft hand of director Scott Derrickson — working off a script he co-wrote with Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill, with some jokes reportedly added in by an uncredited Dan Harmon, creator of the TV series “Community” — “Doctor Strange” is elevated superhero fare, a globe-trotting adventure that feels big in scope, with awesome CGI set pieces featuring cities literally folding in on themselves, coupled with small, delightful moments of wonder.
It’s also the rare film worth seeing in 3-D. The folding cities look amazing, and the magic — golden, sparkly streams pulled out of the air — is flat-out cool. The otherworldly locales also provide a trippy, visual feast.
The action sequences are incredibly strong and, thankfully, they don’t take up large chunks of the film like in “Captain America: Civil War,” where the battles went on and on and on.
Perhaps the greatest strength of “Doctor Strange” is that it stands on its own (even more so than “Ant-Man”). It’s a complete and satisfying story that is a perfect introduction to a fascinating character, while helping to flesh out a previously unseen pocket of the greater Marvel Universe.
If that’s not an act of magic, I don’t know what is.