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"DOCTOR STRANGE"
(2016) (Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A gravely injured surgeon seeks out a hidden world of mysticism for healing, acquires supernatural powers, and becomes embroiled in an interstellar war that threatens Earth.
PLOT:
Dr. Stephen Strange (BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH) is one of the world's top neurosurgeons. He appears to have everything. Money, prestige, a staff position at one of New York City's finest hospitals, and an ongoing flirtation with the pretty Dr. Christine Palmer (RACHEL McADAMS). But the good doctor takes his hand off the wheel for a moment ... literally ... crashing his sports car outside the city and causing terrible nerve damage to his hands and fingers.

After seeking the advice of Jonathan Pangborn (BENJAMIN BRATT) a man who miraculously beat paralysis, Strange travels to Nepal to seek out a secret society of healers. What he finds is a cult-like order under the direction of The Ancient One (TILDA SWINTON). He is accepted into her inner circle, which includes the warrior Mordo (CHIWETEL EJIOFOR) and keeper of the records, Wong (BENEDICT WONG). Among them, he learns to control energy, create portals to other dimensions, and wield supernatural powers.

He also is placed into harm's way. A former disciple of The Ancient One's, Kaecilius (MADS MIKKELSEN), has returned to steal pages from a centuries-old text that he hopes to decipher. His goal is to present Earth to a malevolent, all-powerful, intergalactic tyrant named Dormammu (voice of CUMBERBATCH), who yearns to bring our world into his dark dimension and consume it.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
When I was a little kid, I flat-out loved reading comic books. This was in the 1970s and early '80s. I actually thought that characters like Spider-Man and Iron Man really lived in New York City, and that one day I could visit there and see them in action. They stoked the imagination, and the old motto "Make mine Marvel" was right up there with "May the Force Be With You," "Dy-no-mite," and "Whatchu talkin' about Willis?!"

But one character I never could quite get into was Doctor Strange. I couldn't wrap my elementary school brain around his inter-dimensional portals and space-time parlor tricks. He didn't seem any more heroic than David Copperfield or Doug Henning. I wanted Spidey, Cap, and the Hulk.

What's becoming clear is that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige and the other bigwigs responsible for the Marvel Cinematic Universe have such a clear vision for what they're doing and are so confident in their source material and their storytelling abilities, that they can bring even minor characters like Doctor Strange and the Ant-Man to the screen and have them be completely entertaining movies.

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the title character here, and it's a masterstroke of casting. It's really impressive how confident Marvel's lead actors are in each of these roles. Sure, it took them a while to get the Hulk and Bruce Banner right. But Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Paul Rudd, and now Cumberbatch? Come on. This is a hot streak, folks!

The story here is that Strange is a world-class neurosurgeon with an ego the size of Obamacare. When he gets gravely injured in a car crash that causes severe nerve damage to his hands and fingers, he is compelled to seek out alternative methods of healing. His search takes him to Nepal and a secret order of mystical warriors led by The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) with help from Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor).

Strange doesn't find a cure for his injuries. What he does find is a way to control energy, to bend reality to his will, to open doorways to other dimensions, and to conjure up weapons. As his view of the cosmos and existence expands, his ego lessens and he realizes there is so much more at stake here and out there than his perfect record of surgeries. What he realizes is there is an interstellar battle between good and evil that has been going on for eons and he now has a chance to affect its outcome. Strange and Co. eventually do battle with a fallen disciple of The Chosen One named Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who wants to hand the Earth over to a malevolent entity obsessed with consuming it into a dark dimension.

There's some pretty heady stuff at play here. Sure, it's a story dynamic that has played out more vividly in the "Star Wars" films -- a fallen follower of a mystical energy field becomes a willing pawn to an evil puppet master who must be vanquished by a prideful hero who may turn to the Dark Side himself when pushed. And, yes, all of this space-time continuum/dimensional travel junk will be familiar to anyone who has followed "Star Trek" or even the "Hellraiser" franchise over the years. But such age-old formulas work here, and a marvelous script by director Scott Derrickson, Jon Spaihts, and C. Robert Cargill mixes in just the right amount of humor to keep the thing from becoming too heady and self-important.

The end credits promise "Doctor Strange" WILL return. With so much on the Marvel plate, let's hope it's soon. I give this film a very enthusiastic 7.5 out of 10 (T. Durgin)




Reviewed November 1, 2016 / Posted November 4, 2016


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