Genre: Comic Book/Action
Director: Scott Derrickson
Run Time: 130 Minutes
It's taken Marvel Studios eight years to lay the groundwork to introduce its sprawling, mind-bending series of alternate worlds, known by fans as the multiverse.
Past films have touched upon these mystic wonders, but thankfully Marvel waited for the perfect ambassador to introduce fans and newbies alike, and that man is none other than Dr. Stephen Strange.
Doctor Strange, the 14th film in the epic, still-unfolding MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), dives right into the deep end of time-jumping, transmorphing, magic-wielding protectors, aka sorcerers, and offers no apologies for those who can't keep up.
Truth be told, Doctor Strange is both the most out-there Marvel film yet, but also one of its most accessible to date.
That doesn't mean you won't need to see the movie at least twice -- trust us, you will -- but that's only because the visual landscape is so stunning, so alive, so immersive that you simply can't absorb everything in just one sitting.
For the uninitiated, Dr. Strange was a renowned neurosurgeon felled by his own hubris, who lost the use of his two best instruments, his hands, following a horrifying car crash. Seeking any hope whatsoever, he travels to a remote region of Nepal where he believes a possible cure might be found to restore the use of his hands. What he discovers instead is a gateway to the limits of human imagination and a primer in all things mystical -- from fiery energy weapons to powerful talisman to the ability to create portals between space and time.
Strange (the perfectly cast Benedict Cumberbatch) begins his training with The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, also perfectly cast) and Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) just as a rogue sorcerer, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), has stolen pages from an ancient tome that can summon forth a galactic, world-devouring god.
Mikkelsen looks like he is having a blast playing a rakish scoundrel who doesn't hesitate to smirk and quip, even in the heat of battle. His Kaecilius is a perfect adversary for Strange, and director Scott Derrickson makes impressive use of computer-generated animation to elevate their battles into gravity-defying, life or death struggles.
Derrickson was a risky but wise choice by Marvel to introduce its darker-themed multiverse characters. His background in genre films, specifically straight-up horror fare like Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, means he knows how to goose an audience and deliver surprises when least expected.
But he also shows a deft touch for staging big battles on a constantly shifting stage of city streets and building facades that literally bend and fold into one another. There's a distinct Matrix-vibe to the fights that brings a smile.
Not since Alien, when the artistry of H.R. Giger transformed Ridley Scott's science-fiction horror tale into something more, has a film benefited from such a well-thought-out visual palette. With Doctor Strange, the primary influence seems to be the works of famed Dutch artist M. C. Escher, whose drawings distorted reality, taking the ordinary and making it fantastic, and forced observers to look deeper into the abyss of imagination.
Just as with every past Marvel film, there are two extra scenes tucked within the credits. One is a funny back and forth that sets anticipation high for 2017's Thor: Ragnarok and a post-credits scene that specifically advances Doctor Strange and hints at a future adversary the good doctor may have to face.
Once again, Marvel Studios has delivered on the promise that comic book movies can be both artistically stunning and intelligently crafted. They have done wonders with one of their most iconic, yet not universally-known heroes -- the Sorcerer Supreme -- at a time when other filmmakers and franchises are struggling to master even the most universal superheroes like Batman or Superman.