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Reviewed by:
  • Doctor Strange dir. by Scott Derickson
  • John Tibbetts
Doctor Strange ( 2016) Directed by Scott Derickson Produced by Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Pictures 115 minutes

"Death gives us the meaning of our lives."

This is the mantra that pervades the superhero movie Doctor Strange. It's too bad that the theme is ultimately dropped. Only immortals need apply here.

Doctor Strange is a Super Sorcerer who first appeared in the byline of Steve Ditko in 1963's Strange Tales #110, bringing mysticism to the Marvel Universe (as if the very presence of super heroes isn't mystical already). He lives in a mansion called the Sanctum Sanctorum, located somewhere in New York City (Times Square is probably the actual location). He begins his comic book existence as Stephen Strange, a surgeon with preternatural gifts and a colossal ego who has no time for petty medical emergencies but is interested only in the Big Cases. When he loses the use of his hands in a terrible auto accident, he abjures Western healing and departs to Kathmandu in search of medicinal alternatives. He meets a bald, androgynous guru simply named The Ancient One who invites him to forget everything he knows and submit to supernatural arts. Not only are his hands healed, but he acquires magical abilities, a powerful amulet known as the Eye of Agamotto, a Cloak of Levitation, and an enemy named Kaecilius. This villain (whose eyes are ravaged and glittering with evil intent) bestrides multiple dimensions of time and space. In sum, as Clark Collis of Entertainment Weekly observed with decided understatement, "Doctor Strange is the gateway into the cosmic corners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where things can get pretty trippy."

So, what exactly is going on? I'm unsure if I can give you a coherent report, and I doubt that the movie can, either. Characters, super powers, martial arts, cool costumes, and tussles with extra-dimensional bad guys scatter and tumble across the Marvel Universe. We do know there is an otherworldly universe known as the Dark Dimension that can give immortality to the characters—but at a price, as the Ancient One realizes. Indeed, the themes of Time and mortality dominate the action. Time is the relentless force that propels and ends our days; it is the proposition that only death can give meaning to our lives. Yet, Time must be harnessed, reversed, manipulated and halted, and death be defeated. Immortality is the prize. The evil Kaecilius wants to wrest Time from its inevitability and play with it like a child with a toy. Doctor Strange, with his new identity as a cape-wearing superhero of burgeoning powers, confronts Kaecilius—and the battle is on. But it doesn't end there. The Good Doctor also must face the dreaded Dormammu, who rules the Dark Dimension. He is one of the oldest foes of the Ancient One and is plotting to invade the dimension in which Earth resides.

Meanwhile, super powers are not conferred only to Men in Tights (and I must include the unexpected touch that Strange wears pants, not tights). There is Dr. Palmer, who will assume a new identity of her own: both "Night Nurse," a hero who provides medical assistance to the good guys, and a romantic interest of Strange's. Stay tuned. [End Page 124]

Paradoxically, the array of fantastic effects—which includes breath-taking chase scenes across cities whose architecture is fractured, splinted, and twisted into pretzel shapes, and where the laws of gravity aren't always enforced—looks, to all the world, like a rather old-fashioned '70s psychedelic trip. Pink Floyd wouldn't be out of place here. It is all very dazzling, but its relentless assault on our senses inevitably becomes numbing and, oddly, rather irrelevant to the attraction of the characters themselves.

Sadly, Doctor Strange, despite the delightful presence of an occasionally errant cape and a sprinkling of wryly comic touches, falls victim to the same disastrous trope to which every superhero movie succumbs: nobody ever dies. Mortality is never a factor. The imminence of death does not illumine life. Superheroes can bash and pummel and thrash each other ad...


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pp. 124-125
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