Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a famous if somewhat arrogant surgeon. While speeding to a medical conference, Dr. Strange is involved in a horrific car accident, and loses the function in his hands. Strange hears about a man who has been completely healed from two broken bones in his spinal column. He goes to see Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt) who tells Strange to go to Kamar-taj in Tibet. Strange spends his last dollar to go to Kamar-taj and finds the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her students, and the keepers of the ancient texts Wong (Benedict Wong) and Mordo. (Chiwetal Ejiofor) The Ancient One, Mordo, and Wong protect the world from metaphysical threats with buildings called Sanctums, located in New York, London and Hong Kong surrounded and protected by ancient spells.
The Ancient One is a sorceress and introduces Strange to a world of magic and spells. Dr. Strange is initially skeptical, but after the Ancient One shows Strange his astral body, and the mirror dimension where Dr. Strange can practice his spells, Strange diligently learns the spells even learning spells involving manipulating time. Both Wong and Mordo feel like Strange is breaking rules and learning spells that will ruin the world. But Dr. Strange learns every spell possible and uses them to fight a former student named Kaecilious (Mads Mikkelson) who leads a group of zealots. Kaecillious has stolen pages from the ancient texts and is trying to summon Dormammu of the Dark dimension. Kaecillious believes that Dormammu will give him and his zealots eternal life. While reading the ancient texts, Doctor Strange also learns some disturbing information about The Ancient One, and the key to her long life. What does he learn about the Ancient One? Can Dr. Strange defeat Kacillious and Dormammu?
Dr. Strange is a very complex, sometimes needlessly complex movie. The story involves Dr. Strange discovering his astral body, a mirror dimension where nothing on earth is affected, the Dark Dimension, where Dormammu lives, and infinite time loops. That is a lot to digest. The writers apparently tried to jam in every detail from the comic books and that hurt the story, it was difficult at one point to determine if Dr. Strange was fighting Kaecillious in the mirror dimension or New York, and sometimes the action jumps too quickly between New York and Tibet, if the story was simplified, it would be easier to tell. The ending is also-anti-climactic.
What raises this movie above standard issue sci-fi is the acting. Much like Robert Downey Jr. made Tony Stark, a non-likeable character, into a loveable jerk, Cumberbatch takes a self-centered, rich, arrogant doctor into someone who sublimates his ego and learns about self-sacrifice. The transformation is slow and painful, and Benedict Cumberbatch conveys the painstaking nature of the transformation well. Chiwetal Ejiofor is also very good as the student of the Ancient One’s students, he feels somewhat betrayed and hurt by Strange’s flouting of the rules, and maybe jealous of Strange’s abilities, Ejiofor illustrates these emotions well, and his character was a good counterpoint to Cumberbatch’s doctor. Tilda Swinton did a fantastic job as The Ancient One, she was mentor and contemporary of Dr. Strange, Swinton did a great job of being a low-key presence in a sometimes frenetic movie. I think the character should have been played by an Indian or Chinese woman, just because I know there are Indian and Chinese actresses who could have played this role well, but there is no denying that Tilda Swinton is a great actress. Rachel McAdams is not a great actress, and she turns in another amateurish performance in this movie. She brings an unlikeable girlish damsel in distress quality to all of her roles, she’s a doctor in this movie, yet she doesn’t seem mature enough to be a doctor.
The direction is not good. The special effects are reminiscent of Inception, and therefore redundant. And the special effects interfered with the story too often, whenever the story started to be cohesive, the special effects would come blaringly into view. The pacing was too fast, the backstory was rushed, there was no explanation of the comic book jargon, and a rush to get to Dormammu. Director Scott Derickson has usually directed horror films and seems ill-suited to tell a sci-fi story.
Doctor Strange: A Cumber-batch of great actors save this film.