Review: 'Doctor Strange'

Cumberbatch dazzles in psychedelic sorcerers tale
Benedict Cumberbatch goes from broken neurosurgeon to top-notch sorcerer in 'Dr. Strange.'

Will Rogers, who was sort of the Garrison Keillor of his day, once was asked to pronounce on the future of the movies: "Run 'em backwards, it can't hurt 'em and it's worth a trial." The most unusual material in the highly likable Doctor Strange comes during a battle scene in Hong Kong.

Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a magus of great power, arrives at a typical scene of Marvel comics civic destruction. He casts a time reversing spell. Even as Strange fights off a small pack of evil sorcerers, the buildings reassemble in the air, burst water-mains slow to a trickle and reconnect themselves, and neon signs unshatter into glittering clouds of glass and return to blazing life. It's like the kind of housekeeping Mary Poppins once did, but on a larger, wilder scale.

Stephen Strange, a talented but insufferable surgeon, ruins his hands in a car wreck. Multiple operations drain his bank account without bringing healing. Following the path blazed by Lost Horizon's Robert Conway and Bruce Wayne Strange heads to Kathmandu—arriving at monastery run by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a Celtic sorceress who opens Strange's mind to a mystical and wholly psychedelic universe, filled with wormholes, sorcery and some seriously far-out super villains.

A bong rip might take some of the edge off the dialogue, which transitions awkwardly from TV medical show snark to the fortune cookie affirmations offered by the Ancient One. As Strange takes up the defense of Earth against the inter-dimensional terror known as Dormammu, it's satisfying to watch Cumberbatch's relinquishing of ego. Still, he grows more visually heroic with the help of a wonderful sentient crimson cape. (It comes to life and beats a villain senseless.)

The movie is very much Harry Potter for adults. As a novice, Strange's spells sputter like a defective Fourth of July sparkler; as a well-trained magician he sweeps mandalas of fire into being. When you get really good at magic, you can even fold cities like origami—Inception style.

Rachel McAdams plays Dr. Christine Palmer, who is smart enough to suggest the surgeon turned sorcerer is the dupe of a cult, until she sees Strange burning a fiery hole in our reality to avoid a downtown commute. Fine actors on the sideline, too, including Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mads Mikkelsen, who justifies his allegiance to Dormammu with a comic book version of Melville's line: "Faith, like jackals, feeds among the tombs."

Dr. Strange
PG-13; 115 Mins

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