Marvel really should have failed at some point by now. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was launched in 2008 with "Iron Man" and leads all the way up to this week's "Doctor Strange." Aside from 2008's "The Incredible Hulk," all 14 films have been critical and financial successes and have painstakingly been weaving a larger story that will culminate in the two-part "Avengers: Infinity War" being released in 2018 and 2019.
"Doctor Strange" continues Marvel's winning streak by simultaneously being something completely new to the MCU, yet familiar in its structure and beats. The script is a straightforward origin story, so the originality of the world is offset by the predictability of the character arc.
Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as Doctor Stephen Strange, a gifted but egocentric neurosurgeon who gets in a car accident that completely shatters his hands. He goes through several surgeries, but his hands are still too destroyed to continue his work as a doctor. This being Marvel, he hears of a special way to heal himself, Eastern-style, so he heads to Kamar-Taj, Tibet, and learns how to channel mystic energies from The Ancient One, an ageless kung-fu magic badass.
The driving arc of the film is whether Strange will use his newfound powers to heal himself and head back to the world he knows, or if he will protect the Earth from dark and mystical forces that wish to do us harm. Since this is a superhero movie, his choice is obvious, but that doesn't make his journey to that decision any less entertaining to watch.
The Marvel movies aren't quite what someone would call "realistic," but they mostly exist in a world where technology is advanced to the point of science fiction. The "Thor" franchise went a little more out there with things like a Rainbow Bridge and dark elves, while "The Avengers" introduced some magic to the universe with The Scarlet Witch, but "Doctor Strange" goes full on Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth with the mysticism.
This is by far the trippiest superhero movie ever made (even trippier than Ang Lee's "Hulk" flick). The psychedelic visuals are perfectly bolstered by Michael Giacchino's score, which bounces effortlessly between comic book swells and psychedelic rock. "Doctor Strange" is like "Inception" had a Pink Floyd fever dream at Burning Man.
The biggest flaw with the film is the same one most Marvel movies have: a forgettable villain. As good as Mads Mikkelsen is, his character Kaecilius has murky motivations at best and gets in the way of spending time with the characters we actually care about.
Scott Derrickson's "Doctor Strange" takes the best of Steve Ditko's comic imagery and creates something wholly modern and exciting. Seeing this in 3-D IMAX is a must, as the depth of the dimensions Strange travels through make the viewer feel like a space baby. Even for the filmgoer feeling superhero fatigue, "Doctor Strange" is completely new to the universe.
Dir. Scott Derrickson
Now playing at Old Mill 16 & IMAX
Marvel Cinematic Universe Ranking By Source Weekly Movie Critic Jared Rasic
14: Thor: The Dark World
13: The Incredible Hulk
12: Iron Man 2
10: Captain America: The First Avenger
9: Avengers: Age of Ultron
7: Iron Man
6: The Avengers
5: Captain America: Civil War
4: Iron Man 3
3: Doctor Strange
2: Guardians of the Galaxy
1: Captain America: The Winter Soldier