Film review: Doctor Strange
A confounding study of supernatural powers and epic heroes, Doctor Strange explores, between scenes of the good fighting the bad, an abstract reasoning of time and a transcendental interpretation of life’s purpose.
Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a neurosurgeon, brilliant, wealthy, arrogant. He is condescending towards colleagues, and holds but a vague flame for girlfriend Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), despite her devotion.
All he has accomplished is at once lost, however, when Strange meets with a tragic accident that leaves his hands wasted. After exhausting every scientific option to restore his physical disability, the shadow of the man journeys to Nepal where he ends up under the tutelage of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), an unageing spiritual guide or cult leader or sorceress, who has apparently healed those incapable of being medically healed.
Only, Strange, having swapped surgical scrubs for long-flowing monastic robes, finds himself in confrontation with an erstwhile disciple of his newfound teacher, a disciple turned renegade, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson), who seeks to destroy the world.
It is a quirky tale, one that affirms the need to surrender to the current of an unseen energy to acquire mythical powers, one that depicts time in whose advance we age and die as the real enemy of the human race, that offers an enlightened (if romantic) meaning of existence.
In one sequence the astral being of The Ancient One tells Strange, her body languishing on the operating table, “It’s not about you” — suggesting one ought to live for others.
Throughout the film, director Scott Derrickson deploys a deft understanding of visual atmospherics: as Kaecilius — in working for the Dark Source to, in his words, defeat time — sets out to inflict carnage upon cities, skyscrapers and bridges and trees fold into the ground as paper does in origami; roads tear apart like old cloth by shears, beneath which rubble is regurgitated, as warriors traverse archways and mount stairs floating on air.
While this is impressive the inordinate attention on special effects hobbles the drama somewhat. We spend much of the 115-minute run watching the sophisticated battle between honour and malice, and this reduces the chance to develop more involvement in Strange’s character transformation or, indeed, metaphysical aspects of the story. The movie becomes little more than a venue to play out our childhood fantasies.
Fortunately, the portrayal of the Guru as less than a paragon of virtue adds a welcome layer of moral complexity to this action-toting adventure.
And a stellar cast handles the rolling masonry and defeated evils remarkably.
Ultimately, Doctor Strange is arresting and bullish and funny, albeit way too spectacular.