Year of Release: 2016
Director: Scott Derrickson
Screenplay: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, based on the character created by Steve Ditko
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt
Running Time: 115 minutes
Genre: Fantasy, science-fiction, action, superhero
This is a film based on the Marvel Comics character and is part of the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. In New York City, Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is an acclaimed neurosurgeon, until he is badly injured in a car accident. Unable to return to surgery because of nerve damage to his hands, Strange is confronted with the loss of his purpose in life. Desperate to heal his hands by any means necessary, Strange's quest leads him to Kathmandu, Nepal, where he enconters the Ancient One (Swinton), and her followers, known as "Masters", including Mordo (Ejiofor), who Strange befriends, and stern librarian Wong (Wong). The Ancient One takes Strange on as a pupil, training him in mystical practices and sorcery. However, Stange soon becomes aware of the dark side of sorcery, when a renegade (Mikkelsen) threatens to unleash dark and terrible forces.
This is very much a superhero origin story and follows a path that we have seen many times before. There is also the problem that Strange's powers and the film's mythos are quite complex and so there is a lot of exposition necessary. However in the confines of this, the film manages to work. It's smart, funny and full of action. Cumberbatch has a lot of charisma and makes the, at times, pretty unlikable Strange an interesting and amusing character, however no one else really gets a chance to shine, being there to provide exposition or conflict. The character of the Ancient One in the comics is a Tibetan man, the film swaps the gender and, controversially, the ethnicity of the character, in another example of Hollywood whitewashing. Another problem is that Rachael McAdams is completely underused as Strange's colleague and love interest, and really has more or less an extended cameo.
However the film has a lot going for it, and is well worth seeing on the biggest screen you can find. For one thing it is possibly the closest thing you can get, legally, to a full on psychedelic trip. The special effects are absolutely stunning, with buildings and entire cities becoming beautifully complex, floating, changing Rubik's cubes (ask someone who remembers the 80s). It has a distinct look and style, and may be too oddball for some True Believers. Speaking of which, look out for the obligatory cameo from Stan Lee, and remember to stay until the end of the credits.