By Darren Chan Keng Leong (Singapore)
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I was very impressed and that was the feeling that I had when I watched one of the most anticipated year end films of 2016 – Doctor Strange. First of all, when I saw the revamped Marvel Studios title card, I was excited because of all the major scenes that were shown from the past’s Marvel films and looking at all the heroes from Iron Man to The Avengers: Civil War. This was a nice flashback in giving recognition to Marvel Studio’s involvement in their efforts in interconnecting all the films together.

Doctor Strange shows the character development of Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a renowned neurosurgeon. Though, he has a vast amount of knowledge in the medical field of neuroscience of saving people despite all the odds, he falters in his own personality. Dr. Stephen is critically wounded in a car accident due to his distractions of being involved in his work and helping patients. Lucky to be alive, Dr. Stephen becomes bitter of his plight as he has lost the use of his hands. His arrogance and temper increases as he refuses to accept his condition. This is in spite efforts by his co-worker Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) to help him adapt to his condition and not dwell on his condition. Dr. Stephen shows his determination and stubbornness in trying experimental surgeries to heal his hands. However, after using all his resources, he fails to regain the use of his hands and is forced to give up practicing as a neurosurgeon by the hospital’s medical board.

This propels him to seek out Jonathon Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt), a paraplegic who under mysterious circumstances was able to regain his use of his body. He directs Dr. Stephen to seek out Kamar-Taj which is located in Kathmandu, Nepal in searching for the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). This journey of self-discovery throws Dr. Stephen into the previously untouched world of magic and sorcery.

Tilda Swinton did an excellent job of playing the wise Ancient One as I liked the dialogue and chemistry with Benedict Cumberbatch which helped with the character development. Perhaps we will get to see her in flashbacks in the sequel as her backstory could be explored as the Ancient One. The progressive development of Dr. Stephen’s character from neurosurgeon to sorcerer supreme was a sight to watch in his struggle to comprehend the mystic arts and also to defending the world. The scenes where Dr. Stephen acquires the Eye of Agamotto and the Cloak of Levitation were well choreographed. The Eye of Agamotto was revealed later by Wong (Benedict Wong), the librarian to be the Time Gem which was part of the Infinity Stones that Thanos was after. This was a nice reference to the upcoming film Avengers: Infinity War where we will see the long awaited debut of Thanos waging war on the Avengers.

The primary villain of the film, rogue sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) could have posed a bigger threat to Dr. Stephen as he easily joined the list of forgettable villains from the Marvel Universe. However, the dialogue between Kaecilius and Dr. Stephen was immersive as it challenged the sorcerer supreme’s judgement of the Ancient One. I like how the film introduced the audience to the other dimensions in the Marvel Cinematic Universe which opens up more opportunities for more stories. The many dimensions such as the Astral Plane, Mirror Dimension and Dark Dimension showed that future Marvel films could explore these dimensions fully. The sanctum which Dr. Stephen protects looks amazing in the film where he takes residence after the battle with Kaecilius. Hopefully, we get to see more mystical objects going forward.

Dormammu who is a dark entity and conqueror of worlds in the Dark Dimension reminds me of Galactus in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. The scene was pivotal in showing the power of the Eye of Agamotto which Dr. Stephen uses to his advantage in manipulating time to stop Dormammu from conquering earth. Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) end credit scene was a throwback to Green Lantern where Sinestro swaps his green lantern ring for the yellow ring. Similarly, Mordo on the other hand becomes a villain in rendering Pangborn unable to walk by stealing his energy. Mordo also stated his intention of ridding the world of sorceress which hints at the plot for a potential Doctor Strange sequel. Also the mid-credit scene offers a team-up with Dr. Strange and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in setting up the upcoming film, Thor: Ragnarok. Marvel has certainly outdone itself in having scenes that set up intriguing storyboards for future films.

Director Scott Derrickson did a spectacular job of providing the visual aspect of the films through vivid cinematography. This came in the form of psychedelic dimensions and visually satisfying scenes that the Ancient One shows Dr. Stephen to make him believe that there were other worlds out there. Improvements could be made to making the villain more memorable and using Dr. Stephen’s love interest, Christine Palmer in intertwining her more seamlessly within the storyline. The Easter Eggs such as Stan Lee reading Aldous Huxley’s The Door of Perception and the Avengers Tower were nice additions to the storyline in providing context. There are also strong indications circulating that Dr. Strange will reunite the fractured Avengers in Avengers: Infinity War to battle Thanos.

I would recommend everyone to catch Doctor Strange because it offers a fresh perspective to Marvel’s slew of superhero films as it explores the realm of the mystic arts which is new and that Benedict Cumberbatch portrayal of the sorcerer supreme seem to be plucked directly from the comics which will satisfy die-hard Marvel fans. With its light-hearted bantering and visually pleasing CGI action scenes, Marvel has indeed developed so much potential for Doctor Strange that I am looking forward to more trippy adventures from the sorcerer supreme. This film is definitely pure magic and a fun watch from start to end.

Rating: 4/5

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