Producer Kevin Feige and Disney continue to run Marvel with the confidence and showmanship of a modern circus. They use a dependable model for making entertaining comic book adaptations, and while the business of making an international box-office hit twice a year dictates their art, they don’t seem to be running out of ideas for how to deliver a new theme for the same old show.
“Doctor Strange” takes the universe already filled with superheroes and explores a secret human society of wizardry where a select group of brilliant human beings in different areas of the world have learned how to transcend space and time. Our title character has been waiting a long time to make an official cinematic appearance, especially for those who have known him since his comic book debut in 1963.
Desperately searching for a cure for his problem, his journey turns into a world quest when he stumbles upon something unexplainable. Finding initiation in a Kathmandu monastery, a mystical leader known only as “The Ancient One” (Tilda Swinton) teaches him how to conjure powerful forces without physically using his hands at all.
In accordance with the genre, there is also a group of evil renegade sorcerers. The awesome Mads Mikkelsen (TV’s “Hannibal”) plays their formidable leader on a mission to gain a forbidden power for which only the newly initiated Doctor Strange may be able to contest.
Aided by Wong (Benedict Wong), Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Strange’s former medical colleague Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), Strange sets out to save the world in mind-bending action set pieces, which have almost as much awe-inspiring visual inventiveness as 1999’s “The Matrix” and 2010’s “Inception.”
I am still thankful that these Marvel movies continue to bring in unlikely directors. In the case of “Doctor Strange,” Scott Derrickson seemed like a gamble, given his dark filmography of varying quality, which includes the effectively creepy “Sinister” from 2012 and the abominably joyless 2008 remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Derrickson does an excellent job at finding ways to involve us with a cold-spirited protagonist on a journey to enlightenment. The film starts off with a dreary palette but slowly brings about more bright and colorful sequences, which are rather mesmerizing. I only wish that the film would give its action a backseat to the plot at times.
What we have here is a typical Marvel action movie snack – but with a new flavor. The only problem is that this flavor is so alluring that I wonder what it would have been like as a full-course meal. This is the frustration that comes with the serialization of mainstream cinema: Future installments are inevitable, so why bother getting everything right? Like every entertaining entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, things feel as if they could use more development and clarity, but even the philosophical “Doctor Strange” can’t get that into itself. VT