Wanna get away? I doubt I’m the only one who feels the need for escape from our current political reality. Dear friends, for the price of a ticket, you can take a short trip to a superbly entertaining movie universe inhabited by one Doctor Strange.
In the opening minutes of Doctor Strange, we are in a dark library with books illumined by a dim amber gold, giving the scene a somber and shadowed aura. Within seconds a group of cowled monks appear, led by a ruthless man who imprisons the librarian in coils of light, murders him, and then rips a page from a tome the librarian was trying to protect. The prized page secure in his possession, the villain and his henchmen burst through a door into the bright daylight of a Manhattan street.
They are instantly pursued by a tall figure in a saffron robe. It is Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. Swinton is one of the most unusual and striking screen actors of our time, and her shaved head in this role adds yet another facet to her strangely compelling beauty. The fight between her and the villains is an incredible, exciting, and dazzling sequence—turning the architecture of New York inside out and upside down, with the geometry of the buildings tumbling and folding in a breath-taking array of ever-changing images. It’s almost as if the director Scott Derrickson is saying, okay, now that I’ve got your attention, we can tell our story.
The story is about Stephen Strange, a brilliant neurosurgeon at the top of his game. As played by Benedict Cumberbatch, he is arrogant, wealthy, and condescending to the merely capable surgeons and doctors around him. He pays a high price for his hubris: while speeding along a curving mountain highway in his Lamborghini Huracan, he sideswipes another car and crashes into a river far below the road.
When he wakes up, he is a badly battered and broken man. The worst injuries of all are to his hands. He spends his fortune on experimental surgeries, all to no avail. Fearing he’ll never be able to work again, he sinks into a state of despair. He learns about a man whose injuries made him a paraplegic; after dropping out of sight for a long time, he was seen again on the streets of New York, walking without so much as a crutch or cane. Impossible, says Strange. He goes to see this man, who is playing basketball with friends. Strange is told that if he wants to heal his trembling hands, he must find a place called Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu.
Once admitted to the hidden sanctum of Kamar-Taj, Strange at first mocks the Ancient One. She shows him, in a matter of moments, that nothing is impossible. He becomes her pupil and devotes himself to the study of the mystic arts. Just as he was a brilliant surgeon, Strange is a gifted sorcerer. And in the course of becoming a sorcerer, he learns something about being a decent human being.
When he accepts his new identity, Stephen Strange trims his beard and takes on the look of the magician Doctor Strange. It’s a great look, with a touch of silver at the temples that sets off his thick dark hair. But the look is not really complete until his “relic” comes to him—a deep burgundy cape that Cumberbatch wears beautifully. It gives him the power to levitate and fly, and it sometimes moves entirely free of Strange in order to protect and defend him in ways that are downright funny. For my money, it’s the coolest cape ever, and Cumberbatch wears it with verve and style.
Cumberbatch fits into his Doctor Strange role as perfectly as his cape fits him, and the movie is well cast, with fine performances from Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, and Benedict Wong. There’s a great blend of humor, metaphysics, philosophy, and the inevitable battle between good and evil, all set in a film realm of astonishing special effects. Doctor Strange is fun and visually beautiful – transporting us easily and often between our own world and other realities. The movie plays with film as masterfully as Doctor Strange commands the sorcerer’s art.
I got hooked once again into believing, at least for two hours, that it is possible to become one with the mysterious energy of the multiverse, and wield the mystic power that enables us to fight and defeat evil. Sure could use some of that magic power now.