Having seen every movie produced by Marvel Studios since Iron Man, this reviewer can attest that the studio continues to follow a basic formula to avoid the cookie-cutter pitfall: “Do something different in each movie.” Avoiding predictability, Marvel has made sure each of their movies provided a different type of comic book adaptation, while merging on occasion cross-over characters. In the Iron Man 3 movie, for example, Tony Stark is barely Iron Man… he is Tony Stark embarking on a journey of self-discovery. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a reboot of the franchise without gruff army commanders, German Nazis, big band music and propaganda posters, while masquerading as a political thriller. For Doctor Strange, the studio opted to make a motion picture on a grand scale while at the same time remaining small in the grand scheme of things.
While sorcerers are able to manipulate the world ala Inception (2010), providing the viewers with an acid trip (a must-see in 3-D and I personally am not a fan of 3-D), the entire world-shaping events unfold in a fraction of a second and through mirrors… the average Joe Q. Public is unaware of the forces of evil combatting against each other within a blink of an eye.
Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect in the role of Stephen Strange, a prominent surgeon with an ego bigger than his heart. His foolish pride proves to be his inevitable downfall and when life spirals out of control after an auto accident (a public service announcement reminding the audience not to text and drive), he resorts to spirituality. What he seeks in Nepal turns out to be a mind-blowing out-of-body experience (literally) and promptly begs for more. A trip through the cosmos opens his eyes to new worlds and only after his training has begun does he discover there are factors of evil salivating for that brief moment to conquer the Earth. A number of fanciful wizardry and CGI marvels unfold a number of times until Doctor Strange proves a way to void bloodshed and violence… and finds it in his heart to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to save the lives of millions. It is here that the movie concludes not with a shoot ’em up battle consisting of an army of darkness like you would expect in a movie adapted from a series of comic books, but with a brilliant strategy that makes the craft of storytelling all the more enjoyable.
The acid-tripping technicolor sequence is also a brilliant not to artist Steve Ditko, one of two people credited for creating Doctor Strange. (The other credit goes to Stan Lee who, as expected, makes another gracious on-screen cameo.) There is a shot of the Avengers tower in the background in an early scene of the movie. (Blink and you will miss it.) There is a moment where off-the-side references to other Marvel characters are made such as Lodestone and Nebula, and one of Justin Hammer’s henchmen from Iron Man 2. The wi-fi password handed to Strange, “Shamballa,” comes from a story arc titled “Into Shamballa” from the comic books in which Strange had the opportunity to usher in a new age for mankind and choose not to accept responsibility for the offering.
Oddly, Strange went to Nepal and not Tibet to learn his new talent… possibly one of the many cultural non-acceptance policies now in effect since China purchased much of Hollywood a couple years ago. One observation, which pleased me greatly, was Marvel’s avoidance of incorporating scenes in the movie that set up stories for future sequels. In Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, Marvel insisted on having scenes of Thor seeking visions of things to come, setting up the stage for Thor 3, which were not essential to the continuity of the Ultron plot.
Unlike Suicide Squad and Batman vs. Superman, which proved to be major duds among critics and fans, Doctor Strange is great popcorn movie and if both Marvel and Disney keep up with this track record they will have a winning recipe for the faithful who line up to buy their tickets at the box office.