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Doctor Strange movie review: Marvel wields its magic again

Aleesha Matharu | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:45 IST

Marvel's Cinematic Universe always wins the superhero race against DC at the box office for one reason and one reason alone: its movies have heart.

So, as outlandish as Doctor Strange may seem, particularly in the beginning when you're left debating how the hell someone managed to out-Inception Nolan and twist the laws of physics and nature like that, the movie has all the charm that we've seen nearly every Marvel movie ooze. Particularly Guardians of the Galaxy and the likes of Ant Man.

The 14th installment in the ever-expanding MCU, Doctor Strange can best be described as the trippier and more mystical version of The Avengers. That's because while the Avengers protect the world from physical threats, it's up to Doctor Strange and his brethren to protect it from mystical threats from other realms.

The story begins with doctor Stephen Strange, an arrogant, cocky genius, who's a brilliant neurosurgeon. He suddenly finds himself without the use of his hands after an accident leaves him gravely injured.

This sparks a need to fix the problem; his ego is too large to stop him from doing just that. And along the way, he picks up a talent that takes him from saving one life at a time to saving millions.

Sound familiar? It sounds exactly like 2008's Iron Man, doesn't it?

But somehow, the end result isn't the same, even though Benedict Cumberbatch's doctor winds up snaking his way into our hearts all over again, just like Tony Stark did all those years ago. More than that, the visual departure from the norm only serves to elevate the whole movie.

Strange's quest to heal himself takes him to Kathmandu, to Kamar-taj, the home of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, very lovely and alien-like).

His initial scepticism is blown to smithereens when she opens his third eye. That sequence alone justifies seeing the movie in 3D, as it sends him careening through dimension after dimension in what looks like an LSD-induced haze.

It's always jarring to see how quickly pupil becomes master just to serve the plot point, and Marvel falls victim to it here, but Cumberbatch soon rote learns his way into becoming a sorcerer set to defend the world.

It is an origin story after all, and does have to deal with setting up the story for future installments (which are to involve some of the Marvel gods, as per the closing credits, I'll say no more).

The situation is interrupted soon enough by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former disciple who wants to summon the evil cosmic being Dormammu, and potentially destroy the world as we know it in the process.

Strange gets dragged into the fight against his wishes, but he embraces the new possibilities before the end. Talking about embracing, an animate artefact embraces him too - an ornate levitation cloak that chooses him and helps him in the best and occasionally cutest of ways.

Mikkelsen is a delight as always, as anyone who's seen him as Hannibal Lecter would attest to. Swinton is equally fabulous in every scene she's in, as is Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays Mordo, an ally with very rigid learning beliefs from Kamar-taj.

Only Rachel McAdams's Dr Christine Palmer is wasted. She's only a character who's used as someone Strange needs to apologise to time and again, to allow him to grow as a character and begin to unravel his flaws.

It's not simply the charming cast that glues the whole thing together, the climactic sequence has a particularly clever resolution - which, if you read fantasy books and comics, you'd know is not a new solution. But here, it adds something new to the whole superhero movie genre, which has been growing tired.

Director Scott Derrickson clearly had a very specific idea in mind when it came to the visuals - he exploits every opportunity CGI has to offer and brings Steve Ditko's comic book pages to life with fractals and more. The fight sequences are nearly insane for the mind to fully comprehend - it's not just throwing some punches about and making New York collapse.

One criticism: while most of the jokes do land because of comedic timing, the one too many cultural japes do get a little jarring after a point.

The verdict

I apologise if this sounds like a cheap plug, it's really not: you're probably going want to head in for a second round, perhaps picking IMAX more wisely.

RATING: 4 out of 5

First published: 4 November 2016, 4:56 IST
Aleesha Matharu @almatharu

Born in Bihar, raised in Delhi and schooled in Dehradun, Aleesha writes on a range of subjects and worked at The Indian Express before joining Catch as a sub-editor. When not at work you can find her glued to the TV, trying to clear a backlog of shows, or reading her Kindle. Raised on a diet of rock 'n' roll, she's hit occasionally by wanderlust. After an eight-year stint at Welham Girls' School, Delhi University turned out to be an exercise in youthful rebellion before she finally trudged her way to J-school and got the best all-round student award. Now she takes each day as it comes, but isn't an eternal optimist.