Tilda Swinton and Benedict Cumberbatch
The oddest addition yet to Marvel’s cinematic cottage industry, Doctor Strange will surprise many viewers unfamiliar with the Sorcerer Supreme and expecting a new Avengers. Doctor Strange has more in common with Thor’s mystical DNA; anyone who did not really like the Thor movies will probably not enjoy the visit to this strange doctor. Not that the MCU has ever been grounded in reality, but Doctor Strange is on another astral plane entirely, one that is the most Marvel-ous fun since Guardians of the Galaxy blasted off in 2014. After the dark-toned Captain America: Civil War, a little fun goes a long way.
Before he was the Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, who was bound to be a fan favorite) was a hotshot neurosurgeon. But a car accident takes away his steady hands, leaving the arrogant surgeon searching for answers anywhere he can find them. Journeying to Kathmandu, he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a bald guru whose New Age proclamations foster skepticism in his scientific mind. Skepticism is nothing a little out-of-body experience cannot solve. Soon, Dr. (never Mr.) Strange is flitting between planes of existence, conjuring weapons from the ether and battling a mad sorcerer, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), bent on some nefarious goal or another.
As evil plots go, Kaecilius’ is not the MCU’s strongest. Fortunately, everything else about Dr. Strange’s origin story is magically entertaining, creating a film as multidimensional as its magical hero. Not only is Doctor Strange thoroughly entertaining, it is smart and chock-full of eye candy, as director Scott Derrickson and his FX team get the most out of their 3D special effects. Strange dealing in magic—rather than repulsors or super-powered punches—lends a freshness to the fight scenes, even as some of the movie’s toughest critics will say the M.C. Escher world-shifting is a bit Inception-y. With a mind of its own, Strange’s Cloak of Levitation provides an inanimate character of near-Disney proportions. Thanks to the onetime Sinister director, the movie is Marvel’s most horrific as well; though not a horror film per se, it has more moments reminiscent of the genre than any of its predecessors.
Finally, Marvel continues its success at casting its most singular heroes. Cumberbatch is a strong addition to its stable, especially in the face of the impending Avengers: Infinity War, where his intelligence and charm will be powerful enough to outsmart and outwit Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. (That battle should be the most anticipated one to come.) Sadly, Rachel McAdams is no more than a stock love interest; she deserves a superpowered place in the MCU like that provided to Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is bound to shake up Strange’s neck of the Marvel neighborhood as peer-turned-rival Baron Mordo. Though not utilized much, Michael Stuhlbarg is a nice foil for Strange, the doctor. A blissfully distinct new chapter in the never-disappointing MCU, Doctor Strange reveals that other dimensions are just as enjoyable to discover as other worlds.