by Sam Robinson
Rated M. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams. Directed by Scott Derrickson.
Clearly confident after the success of other left-field releases (hello, Guardians of the Galaxy), Marvel have delivered Doctor Strange, about a magic-conjuring, cape-wearing neurosurgeon.
The film focusses on Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) – real name – a cocky and highly respected neurosurgeon, with an arrogance in the vicinity of Tony Stark. One night he is involved in a high-speed car accident, which sees his hands crushed, and his ability to do surgery ruined. Mind still intact, he does his best to find healing yet to no avail – until he winds up in Kathmandu meeting mysterious ‘The Ancient One’ (Tilda Swinton) who helps him unlock mystic arts and sorcery.
Yep, it’s a very strange plot, and concept. Doctor Strange is easily the most ‘spiritual’ film in the Marvel canon and perhaps the most dramatic. It’s more drama than action comedy, to the point that the jokes often seem like they only exist to keep Marvel fans happy. Strange unlocks all sorts of mind-bending worlds and dimensions and there’s many an ode to films like The Matrix and Inception. Visually spectacular and exciting – Strange floats through kaleidoscopic neon realms, and hurtles through folding cities. The story however is quite thin at points, and character development uneven, although Cumberbatch is excellent, as always.
As I mentioned above, this is a very ‘spiritual’ film. It says plenty about life and death, mortality and eternity, healing and belief, faith and science. There’s also plenty of nods to biblical ideas – numbering your days, counting the cost, and of course, sacrifice. For a Christian movie reviewer like myself, I enjoyed that it went to those points of discussion, and wouldn’t be surprised if Doctor Strange becomes the new The Matrix of sermon illustrations. However – I can also see that some Christians, perhaps parents, will be upset by the way it discusses these matters. They are all explored through this eastern mystic realm that Strange finds himself in.
‘There is no such thing as spirit’
Strange is painted as a by-the-book surgeon who is challenged to look beyond what he knows to a world that science cannot explain – and being the skeptic he is, this takes time. But when he is convinced, he wants everything to be part of this new way of life, he propels himself into it. I think we too are skeptics at heart – perhaps that God exists, that there is life after death, even that God would love someone like us. Doctor Strange doesn’t provide answers about life and death in the way that Christians would believe, but it does encourage discussion and to have your beliefs challenged, which I think can only be a good thing as we go to see this with our friends.
The Verdict: For the most part, Doctor Strange is an enjoyable drama that just so happens to sit in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It raises many questions about spirituality, which may not sit well with some Christian viewers, but for others will be a helpful tool. 3.5/5
Doctor Strange releases in Australian cinemas today, and in the USA next Friday, November 4th.