Go See Doctor Strange in the Theater

Opening this week is Marvel and Disney’s latest, Doctor Strange, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the role of the titular lead. Cumberbatch goes American, Marvel gets out of science fiction and into mystical voodoo, Tilda Swinton is bald, and the universe bends at will. The tale of an arrogant and ruined surgeon turned sorcerer-defender of the universe is well worth the trip to the theater. Here are a few of the highlights:

Perfect hair: Not as in, a good hair day. Mads Mikkelsen as the villain Kaecilius looks foxily evil with a ponytail, while part of the “ancient” in Ancient One must be outliving one’s locks — Swinton is as bald as she is terrific.

Mads Mikkelsen as the villain Kaecilius. Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures.

Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo. Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures.

Cosmic equality: We meet Doctor Strange as an egomaniac perfectionist surgeon rejecting patients who don’t present enough of a challenge. He’s not snotty with a secret heart of gold, he’s just unlikeable. A terrible car accident and trip around the world later, for at least long enough to learn a lesson or two, he’s locked out on the Ancient One’ Kathmandu doorstep. His desperate hours feel just, and Doctor Strange successfully skips the sycophantic set-ups typical of superhero blockbusters.

One-liners galore: “What is this, my mantra?” Doctor Strange, permitted into the Ancient One’s compound, asks Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). “No, it’s the wi-fi password. We’re not savages here.”

Personality-imbued inanimate objects: The magical relic with a life of its own that “chooses” Doctor Strange is a fun-loving cape, which bashes one of Kaecilious’s zealot’s heads into the ground in one scene and strokes Dr. Strange’s face in another.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange and his trusty cape. Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures.

No one’s too cool: Least of all, the hero. Doctor Strange pops his collar, and the collar pets his cheeks until he implores it to stop.

No fear of the nitty-gritty: There are some unexpected scenes, not even terribly important to major plot lines, that give Doctor Strange depth. We’re accustomed, for example, to seeing bullets heading into people’s heads in Marvel movies — being painstakingly and ickily, realistically removed, not so much. Add some surgical close-ups and this might actually be a reason for the squeamish to stay away.

Inception-style visuals that are not nonsense: The most important thing of all. Doctor Strange finds a tool and a spell to manipulate time, which is against the rules, but he does it anyway. Kaecilius turns the world sideways and bends objects outside a so-called mirror dimension, where this is allowed. These scenes look like an issue of Architectural Digest turned into an MC Escher drawing and set into stomach-lurching motion and hallelujah, it actually makes sense.

“The bill must come due”: Just because rules can be broken, it doesn’t mean they should be. No spoilers, of course, but all is set for a sequel (also, of course). Hurray!


Susannah Edelbaum

Susannah Edelbaum's work has appeared on NPR Berlin, Fast Company, Motherboard, and the Cut, among others. She lives in Berlin, Germany.