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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Nov 2, 2016

Dr. Strange Movie Review: An Absorbing Origin Story Of Another Marvel Superhero With Great Performances From Swinton & Cumberbatch

WE ENJOYED Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Alan Turing and Sherlock Holmes so we won’t miss him as “Dr. Strange”, the newest Marvel superhero that should have been a summer offering but is now being shown during fall in America. And yes, the Brit Cumberbatch does not disappoint and plays the role with deadpan relish, even speaking with an American accent. It made us recall his portrayal of the villain, John Harrison, in “Star Trek: Into Darkness”.

Visually, this action-fantasy flick is an eye-popping psychedelic spectacle like a kaleidoscope showing folding walls, ceilings, staircases and entire buildings, reminiscent of what Christopher Nolan did in “Inception”. Marvel’s Stan Lee appears in a cameo while on a bus with a copy of the book “Doors of Perception”, which is somehow related to the movie.

As Dr. Stephen Strange, Cumberbatch is a brilliant neurosurgeon in a hospital in New York who is in the top of his field and has become arrogant and swell headed. He is the version of Tony Stark in the medical profession, combined with the acerbic eccentricity of Dr. Gregory House. He thinks less of his colleagues and is romantically inclined to another doctor, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams.)
But a horrible car crash (very well and astonishingly staged for the big screen) changes his life as it cripples his hands and fingers. He must then travel to Kathmandu in Nepal where a guru can help restore his lost abilities to perform delicate surgeries. There, he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her disciples, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong).

But as maybe expected, things are not served to him on a silver platter. He has to struggle for it, forget his egotism and humble himself many times over while journeying through a dizzying rabbit hole of time and space to achieve enlightenment. Then it becomes clear that once he has learned the tricks of the trade on an astral level, he’s not really destined to go back to surgery but to fulfill his true destiny as a Master where his spirit and flesh come together in perfect harmony. He also gains his own magical uniform, a neo-Edwardian cape with a mysterious medallion that has its own mind and its own powers.

He then joins the Ancient One in her fight against another ambitious student, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen of “Hannibal” TV series), who has chosen to join the dark side ala-Darth Vader. Kaecilius is one of the most evil villains in Marvel Comics Universe, along with Malekith and Loki from Thor and Zemo from Captain America.

Swinton pays her role with a quiet but potent combination of charisma and enigma. Her teacher-student scenes with Cumberbatch are eminently watchable. Cumberbatch himself wisely attacks his role in a funny-serious way that is perfect for this origin story about a doctor who is grounded in science and yet has to redeem himself through occult mystical studies that his own intellect will ordinarily brand as ludicrous. Rachel McAdams doesn’t have much screen time but registers well as the love interest who has a head of her own and won’t pander to Dr. Strange.

Don’t leave right away when the end credits are shown as there are two bonus previews. One shows Dr. Strange talking to Chris Hemsworth as Thor over his brother Loki. The other one shows what happens to the Mordo character who turns out has motives as inscrutable as that of Strange.