CYNICISM AT THE CINEMA: ‘Doctor Strange’ a tale of complicated heroes and kaleidoscopic worlds (trailer included)

The "Doctor Strange" logo.
(Photo used by permission of Wikipedia Commons)
The “Doctor Strange” logo.

Movie aficionado sophomore Chardonnay Needler reviews films biweekly in “Cynicism at the Cinema.”

When I was told over two years ago by ecstatic eighth grader Luca Procida (now a sophomore) that Benedict Cumberbatch had been cast as Doctor Strange, all I heard was Benedict Cumberbatch.

And still that was enough to make me freak out. I fell in love with Cumberbatch during the first episode of Steven Moffat’s “Sherlock,” and that adoration has grown deeper with every Oscar-nominated movie he’s been in.

Two-and-a-half years later – after seeing a “Doctor Strange” trailer with Cumberbatch and special effects that make those of “Mad Max: Fury Road” look like “Invaders from Space” –  my interest has been piqued.

The special effects are an integral part of allowing the audience to imagine the various parallel universes, see the conjured weapons and shields, visualize the portals from/to other worlds and, of course, experience the mirror dimension, where reality can be bent and twisted like a Dali painting and fights can be fought without damaging the real world at all.

Yes, the special effects (from the CGI-ed multiverse to the kaleidoscope-like London buildings in the mirror dimension) are absolutely captivating.

But even though the special effects in “Doctor Strange” are enough to make Picasso jealous from his grave, I need more than a visual masterpiece to be content.

The Marvel movies have been on the cutting edge of special-effects technology for a while now, but the majority have seemed to let those effects, fight scenes and top-notch actors compensate for plots and storylines.

“Doctor Strange,” for me at least, seems to be the exception to this trend of using CGI to suffice for an actual story, as it’s just a little (please forgive the pun) stranger than the rest.

First, it starts like an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” complete with sassy doctors and fast-paced ER drama.

(I have never watched “Grey’s Anatomy,” but I saw “Doctor Strange” with sophomore Jacqueline Chao, a disciple of the show.)

Dr. Stephen Strange is the quintessential antihero, an arrogant American neurosurgeon with loads of sarcasm but not an inkling of social intelligence. (They must not teach that in med school.)

Hats – or rather animate cloaks – off to Cumberbatch for mastering a very solid and realistic American accent; it left me spellbound for the first 15 minutes.

After getting in a car accident that leaves his hands useless, the doctor seeks out every surgery and medication to fix his hands and bring his career back. Hopeless and desperate, he travels to Nepal to seek healing from “The Ancient One,” a bald Celtic woman of unknown origin who introduces Strange to the mystic arts.

Strange studies hard, bends the rules and ultimately becomes transmogrified into a skilled sorcerer right before the audience’s eyes.

Although some of the film feels like a strange cross between “Karate Kid” and history teacher Bruce Baird’s India unit, it still has the sense of an action-adventure superhero flick: the underdeveloped female character, the villain with a sympathetic backstory, the overly loyal sidekick and the hero’s journey.

But the characterization of Strange and the uniqueness of his powers make this something different.

They make him an emotionally fragile character who, before his accident, thought of himself as superior but, after losing his hands, allows all his self-confidence to disappear.

Most superheroes have some type of obstacle like that, but I could personally identify with Strange’s.

And that these heroes aren’t out in plain sight, nor always fighting physical threats, attracts me to this side of the Marvel universe a little more.

Now I’m not a convert to superhero movies yet. But I will acknowledge that this could be the first movie to make me finally read the comics – or at least be a little more informed than the average Marvel movie-viewing teenager.

Not only will I go back to see it in 3-D (It was a grave mistake that I didn’t the first time.), but I am anxiously awaiting the next Marvel movie with a new perspective.

That’s some real movie magic.

By Chardonnay Needler

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