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With: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins
Written by: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill, based on comics by Steve Ditko
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence
Running Time: 115
Date: 11/04/2016

Doctor Strange (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Strange' Magic

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's rather impressive how, in the midst of a glut of superhero movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains fresh and exciting.

Opening Friday in Bay Area theaters, Doctor Strange is the fourteenth movie in the series, and offers more of the satisfying same as well as something refreshingly different.

Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch is the key, bringing vast amounts of charm and skill to his performance as Stephen Strange, a skilled, successful, but arrogant surgeon.

While speeding in his sports car, texting about who his next lucky patient will be, he crashes, severely injuring his hands and ending his career.

Soul-searching, he winds up in Kathmandu and meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). She doesn't exactly promise that she can heal his hands, but if he studies with her, he can heal his spirit. The movie is full of bracing bits of pop-mysticism that are like a tonic in this bitter election year.

Of course, there's a bad guy, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen, in a calm, menacing performance), who steals pages from an important spellbook and hopes to bring a dimension of darkness to earth.

This kind of exotic, mystic material can often be grimly, icily serious. But, remarkably, Doctor Strange mixes in generous measures of playfulness among its many action scenes and explosions.

One of the best fights has Strange challenging three powerful minions when he, himself, is still unsure of his own powers; he must learn on the job, and Cumberbatch lets a tiny bit of bewilderment creep through his battlefield concentration.

Benedict Wong is very funny as the stone-faced keeper of the spellbooks, and Rachel McAdams lends warmth as Strange's former lover and current friend/colleague. As the troubled Mordo, Chiwetel Ejiofor shoulder's much of the film's weight, though he is responsible for one of its funniest lines.

The movie's weirdest choice is its director, Scott Derrickson, who was responsible for a bland remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, as well as some tepid horror films (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister, etc.), but somehow he shows a sure touch over the film's spectacular visuals. It only begs the question of just how much control a director might have over one of these mega-films.

Certainly some of the action scenes race a bit too far away from character and grow dull. However, to be honest, this could also be the effect of the supremely annoying 3D effects (and glasses) that are foisted on viewers nowadays.

Ironically, it's in two dimensions that these super-characters seem to spring more cheerfully to life.

Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise.

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