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‘Doctor Strange’ bewitches audience

reproduced by permission of Marvel

reproduced by permission of Marvel

Emma Walz, Managing editor

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Buildings start tilting at all sorts of angles, folding into themselves as the world transforms around a group of hooded figures fighting a single bald-headed woman. Instead of throwing punches, these foes must exchange blows using energy sparks drawn from thin air, while navigating the ever-changing landscape and evading the spells being thrown by their opponent.

These faceless sorcerers wear robes evocative of westernized Tibetan monks; this battle does take place in a metropolis, after all. The fight does not last long, and resolves as the group retreats into a swirling energy portal created by circular hand motions and a furrowed brow. It sounds a little out there, but I would’ve been disappointed to see anything else from a movie titled “Doctor Strange.”

If repetition of “see-with-your-mind” sort of mantras is going to annoy you, then this may not be for you.

Directed by Scott Derrickson, “Doctor Strange” is an action-fantasy based on the cult comic series first appearing in the ‘60s. It details how an egotistical neurosurgeon, Dr. Stephen Strange, becomes a masterful sorcerer by travelling to Asia and learning under The Ancient One, the bald woman from the opening scene. It isn’t that difficult to figure out her role as the mysterious and omniscient teacher just from looking at her. The shiny head is pretty telling.

I was excited going in. I knew that Benedict Cumberbatch would put on a convincing performance, and the trailer gave an enticing taste of the staggering special effects. As a Marvel movie, there are certain quality assurances concerning things like production value and character development. I’ve never walked away from a Marvel superhero movie feeling less than entertained.

The hero himself is introduced when Strange, played by Cumberbatch, suffers a devastating blow after an accident robs him of the use of his hands. Devoid of purpose and desperate to return to his former life, this atheist turns to the spiritual miracles of Kamar-Taj, a fictional community located in the Himilayas. There, he meets the Ancient One, a Celtic monk played by Tilda Swinton, who teaches him the ways of sorcery to raise him from the dirt and reclaim his life.

The premise of the rest of the film can basically be summed up with a line from Strange’s fellow sorcerer, Wong, played by Benedict Wong: “The Avengers protect the world from physical dangers. We safeguard it against more mystical threats.”

In Strange’s first meeting with The Ancient One, she takes him on a trip through the multiverse that leaves your head spinning. The director pushed the kaleidoscopic visuals of a classic ‘70s acid trip and captured the mind-boggling notion of multidimensional travel.

The star-studded cast impresses. I’d expect nothing less from Cumberbatch after playing the unsociable genius in roles such as Sherlock Homes and Alan Turing. His delivery of witty one-liners makes an unlikable character a fan favorite. Mads Mikkelson aces his portrayal of Kaecilius, the morally-divergent student-gone-rogue, making good use of his sinister, almost serpentine Danish accent. The supporting cast gives nuanced performances – Rachel McAdams’ successful embodiment of endless kindness and forgiveness as Strange’s coworker and ex-girlfriend and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s role as the lawful good who delivers perhaps the most powerful character development in the film.

This film is chock full of spiritual mumbo jumbo, but the fact that Strange experiences the same amount of skepticism as the audience when his exclamation of “That doesn’t make sense!” is countered with, “Not everything does. Not everything has to,” helps to quell any lingering apprehension.

As the lights gradually illuminated the theater, I found myself giddy with satisfaction. Although a seasoned fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe might find the plot lacking, as a casual viewer I found myself thoroughly entertained. I agree to a point that the storyline was nothing spectacular, but the sheer quality and breath-taking action sequences more than made up for any faults.

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