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‘Doctor Strange’ casts new yet similar spells on audience

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Benedict Cumberbatch plays Stephen Strange in “Doctor Strange.”

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Stephen Strange in “Doctor Strange.”

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Stephen Strange in “Doctor Strange.”

DANIEL ANDERSON | Evergreen movie columnist

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Marvel Studio has undeniably found major success in practically reinventing the superhero genre. It is because of heavy-hitting talent like Robert Downey Jr. that the rebellious genius playboy, Tony Stark, can feel more than just robotic, or that Captain America comes across as more than just a block of ice thanks to the portrayal of Chris Evans.

And as exciting and innovative as Marvel is, with each passing movie, there seems to be less to marvel at with similar sheens starting to lose their luster.

“Doctor Strange” changes the game. It marks Marvel’s first fearless nosedive into the realms of magic and mysticism. While the film casts a spell to enchant and electrify audiences, there were times when the good doctor was pulling out tricks from his hat that felt all too familiar.

Benedict Cumberbatch brings all of his acting chops into playing neurosurgeon turned sorcerer, Stephen Strange. The character is very much cut from the same cloth as arrogant, wealthy and brilliant rich-boy types like Tony Stark. His ambitions rival his ego, and he cares little for his patients, preferring to only treat the ones he believes are curable or will catapult him into greater fame.

A texting and driving incident results in Stephen going from doctor to patient as his hands are rendered into a mangled mess. After the failures of all western medicine treatment, he hopes to find a miracle in the mysticism of Kathmandu, Nepal.

He then meets the sagely and enigmatically powerful Ancient One. While I still would have liked to see an Asian actor or actress play the character, Tilda Swinton exudes an otherworldly aura that helped her excel in the portrayal.

Strange is at first skeptical and sardonic of magic. This cues a strong highlight in the film: the visual and special effects. Strange’s spirit is ejected out of his body, and he is sent on an acid-trippy ride through the universe and different dimensions. A kaleidoscope of color and the peculiar, such as hands growing out of hands, growing out of fingers, is a testament to horror director Scott Derrickson’s skill for dark suspense and the weird. Keep all that in mind if you plan to view “Doctor Strange” in 3-D.

The action sequences were truly something to behold. The film “Inception” seemed to be converted into battle grounds for the good and evil magic duels to be had. Whole cityscapes and buildings would melt into each other or be flipped upside down for some of the cleverest movements and original choreography up on screen in a long time.

Much of the dynamics and interactions among characters proved to be equally thought-provoking. Ideas of self-worth, mortality, time, and what measures are ethical when maintaining justice will be at the center of long conversations post-movie-viewing. “Doctor Strange” is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the creativity and intelligence of the film makes it a creator of its own unique world apart from all the cookie-cutter superhero movies shown so far.

Benedict Cumberbatch had excellent chemistry with the impeccable Rachel McAdams, playing love interest and co-worker Christine Palmer. I appreciated a lighter romantic focus, as there was something very sweet and honest about the kind of friendship they developed, and it gave the comedic bites between them more weight.

As good as the film was with dialogue, acting and action, sacrifices had to be made somewhere: namely, the plot. The scenes were straightforward and one-note in tempo. “Doctor Strange” didn’t have any surprise tricks up its sleeves as it fell into the same copy-paste motions origin movies tend to.

There was no consequence or real danger. It is not difficult to believe that Strange is a genius and even prodigious with the arcane arts, but there is no real trial or challenges presented to our hero as he learns, because the story requires quickness.

There is a pet peeve I have with movies involving magic, and “Doctor Strange” is not an exception. There is no logic to magic and, oftentimes, no rules. Doctor Strange’s prominent power he showcased throughout the film is his time manipulation. He is able to rewind, pause, fast-forward and loop time to his will.

He can undo entire battles and render any deaths null and void. When there are no real stakes in a battle, not even magic can conjure any genuine excitement.

“Doctor Strange” deviates into something new and does a wonderful job of bringing something ancient, like magic, into the modern age. While you may have seen some of their tricks before, this movie will leave you spellbound. Be sure to stay for the two end-credit scenes.

Grade: B

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 130 mins

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‘Doctor Strange’ casts new yet similar spells on audience