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Doctor Strange: Reviews call Benedict Cumberbatch film hypnotic and visually dazzling

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Marvel

We’ve already seen the Tony Starks, the Captain Americas, the Bruce Waynes, and even the Ant-Mans of the comic book movie genre. But, out of the shadows of alternate dimensions and psychedelic sorcery, comes Stephen Strange, Marvel’s latest superhero played by Benedict Cumberbatch in next month’s Doctor Strange. How does a future Avenger who uses spells instead of fists fair on the big screen? 

The first wave of reviews are in for Doctor Strange, and the reception has been largely positive. While some critics note the similarities between Strange and Stark, and the repetitive but effective Marvel movie formula, all seem to agree the visual effects and the casting elevate what could’ve been a pretty humdrum installment. 

Directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister), Doctor Strange is an origin story for Stephen Strange, an egotistical neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands in a car accident. His desperate search for a cure leads him to Nepal where he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a powerful Celtic sorceress who leads the magicians of Kamar-Taj in their fight against extra-dimensional threats. A quick study of the mystic arts, Strange must rise through the ranks if he has any hope of stopping a nefarious faction of sorcerers led by Kaecillius (Mads Mikkelsen).  

The cast also includes Chiwetel Ejiofor as Baron Mordo, Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, and Benedict Wong as Wong. 

Ahead of the film’s release on Nov. 4, see some of the first reviews of Marvel’s latest below. 

Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)

“You’d normally expect to find the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, and Chiwetel Ejiofor topping the cast of some thematically venturesome, aesthetically respectable British drama set discreetly in the recent past. But here these terrific actors are playing comic book characters in a film the majority of whose audience members may never have seen any of them before. Do comics-derived films really require thespians of this caliber when the effects and genre elements are their raisons d’etre? Well, no, but they unquestionably class up the joint by injecting wit, elocution, faces with character and commanding presence into material that needs all the elevation it can get to not seem entirely juvenile.”

Peter Debruge (Variety)

“Yes, this new project shares the same look, feel, and fancy corporate sheen as the rest of Marvel’s rapidly expanding Avengers portfolio, but it also boasts an underlying originality and freshness missing from the increasingly cookie-cutter comic-book realm of late. From this second-tier side character, the studio has created a thrilling existential dilemma in which its flawed hero’s personal search for purpose dovetails beautifully with forays into the occult New Age realm of magic and sorcery where Doctor Strange ultimately finds his calling.”

Alonso Duralde (The Wrap)

“Yes, there are big battles in city streets, but they appear to have been designed by M.C. Escher and not a colorblind four-year-old. And yes, our hero travels beyond the farthest reaches of the universe, but he encounters intergalactic psychedelia that calls to mind both 2001 and the acclaimed Nick Fury stories drawn by Jim Steranko for Marvel Comics’ short-lived ‘Pop Art Productions’ imprint. In other words, the brain trust at Marvel Studios wisely continues trying to keep audiences on their toes by upending what viewers might be thinking of as business as usual.”

David Ehrlich (IndieWire)

“Giving a whole new meaning to the idea of Doctors Without Borders, Doctor Strange is a superhero movie that often feels as though it’s been shot through a kaleidoscope — it’s hollow, hypnotic, and every twist of the tube reflects a beautiful new dimension of infinite possibilities. Unapologetically folding the likes of The Matrix and Inception into the fabric of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sinister director Scott Derrickson reaches into the mirror dimension (whatever the hell that is) and retrieves the year’s most (only?) visually dazzling blockbuster. That spectacle comes at a cost. As with all of the best installments of the MCU, the film’s unique strengths have a perverse way of highlighting the franchise’s shared weaknesses.”

Jen Yamato (The Daily Beast)

Doctor Strange manages the feat of opening up the scope of the MCU beyond the previously delineated confines of its less fantasy-based predecessors, bridging the grounded heroics of the Avengers and the cosmic gallivanting of Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy. But it also rings with some tired familiarity. Stephen Strange is, in so many ways, pretty much another Tony Stark: Wealthy, egotistical, selfish. Cumberbatch’s charisma and the story’s nonstop momentum are perhaps the only things balancing the fact that the character is yet another white male Chosen One destined to excel within an exotic culture not his own, an issue the film doesn’t bother trying to address.”

Brian Truitt (USA Today)

“Known for his work as a horror director, Derrickson (Sinister) crafts a trippy phantasmagoria for Strange to fly screaming through as he begins his path to sorcerer supreme. The only thing missing is a Doors jam as the sequence unfolds a dizzying blend of psychedelia, geometric oddities and nightmarish dreamscapes.”

Mike Ryan (UPROXX)

“Moviegoers don’t love origin stories anymore, but Strange’s world is so strange bizarre, there’s really no way to just have this guy show up with his interdimensional thought-beam weapons, and sling rings, and magic cloak (which, here, has a personality of its own) and not offer some sort of two-hour explanation. This movie is your two-hour explanation. And Derrickson and crew offer enough dazzling visual eye candy that it almost hides what we are actually watching. Again, it’s almost a thankless task these days but Doctor Strange finds a way to make even the mundane seem unique.”

Jeff Cannata (ComicBook.com)

“The film has many of the same faults as the other Marvel Studios movies. Rachel McAdams, like Natalie Portman before her, is woefully underused and her character lacks any real substance. The antagonist, sneered admirably by Mads Mikkelsen, is only a speed bump in our hero’s way, generic in his villainy. And yes, there’s a blue light in the sky, of sorts, that threatens to annihilate the city. But all that doesn’t stop the sheer joy of the experience. From the very first sequence of the film — a wild, topsy-turvy action set piece that immediately fulfills the promise of that all-too-brief city-as-M.C. Escher painting moment from Inception, it’s clear that Marvel has doubled down on the ‘lack of rules’ inherent in the sorcerer milieu, and has made the most of it.”