It's no easy feat to bring an obscure, bizarre hero like Doctor Strange to the masses, but the latest Marvel movie takes care of that with ease and reaches for far greater heights.
"Doctor Strange" not only nails every aspect of a typical superhero film, it stretches beyond to the mesmerizing realm inhabited by the likes of "The Matrix" and "Requiem for a Dream."
Director Scott Derrickson, who worked his way up with the horror films "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," "Deliver Us From Evil" and "Sinister," establishes himself in the upper echelon of blockbuster filmmakers. His command of innovative visuals and ability to spin a fast-paced, emotionally deep story is impressive.
He orchestrates an upper-echelon cast of Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton and Rachel McAdams to craft a film that is as exciting as the "Avengers" movies while as innovative as a garage indie.
The film starts off as a breathless medical procedural, with Cumberbatch chewing up hospital catacombs as a cocksure surgeon who thrives just as much on showing up rivals and manipulating people who care about him as he does saving patients. The mechanics of the early scenes are so sound that it's easy to envision the pre-superhero Strange era as a TV series of its own.
After an inevitable catastrophe robs Strange of his career and confidence, he travels to Tibet in a desperate hunt for an experimental treatment that will allow him to return to his profession. He becomes entangled in a metaphysical battle for the soul of humanity, wielding mystical forces in a shadow struggle against overwhelming darkness.
It's in these bizarre yet oddly cohesive sequences that Derrickson etches out his creative signature. Utilizing graphics manipulation on the bleeding age of cinematic storytelling, landscapes twist in a visual dance that seems like Escher paintings viewed through a kaleidoscope. Somehow, the film convinces you that adversaries leaving their bodies to do battle on a parallel astral plane is reasonable rather than ridiculous.
Cumberbatch, ever smoldering, takes it all in stride, managing to transform from self-serving sadist to selfless hero while maintaining a sense of command and confidence that keeps the character consistent during the evolution.
Not only does the movie tell a compelling story in its own right, it adroitly ups the scale of the Marvel cinematic universe, opening up new battlefronts and dimensions as the overall narrative lunges toward the Infinity War. Had this crucial bridge to that saga not been established with such authority, the prospects for the interlinked franchises would seem grim.
But "Doctor Strange" is such a blazing success that it seems sure that the best from Disney-led Marvel movies is yet to come. The future is as wondrous and penetrating as Cumberbatch's dynamic new hero.
RATING: 3.5 stars out of 4.