‘Doctor Strange’ Review: Benedict Cumberbatch Film Borrows From Others, But Impresses As Its Own Animal

The Doctor Strange reviews are out, but this is an entirely independent take. Benedict Cumberbatch has made his debut in the Marvel cinematic universe, and it’s better than most, even if it does borrow from other films a bit.

It’s a good film, though in some cases it seems like we’ve seen it before. Stephen Strange is a renowned surgeon whose hands are almost magic. He’s never lost a patient, and he’s even a bit cocky about it. This is demonstrated by one of the early scenes when he’s performing surgery with music playing in front of an audience.

If this sounds familiar, you might want to rewind the MCU itself and watch Iron Man again. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) did mostly the same thing when he was working in his lab and building things. Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange appears to have the same general attitude, though without the carelessness toward what isn’t immediately important. The human body and a robot suit engine work differently when it comes to repairs, and as a surgeon, he knows this.

The film even mirrors Iron Man a bit when it shows the titular character traveling in a sports car along a winding mountain road with blind turns. He’s passing slower traffic as he uses his smartphone to evaluate his next patient, and it quickly becomes a PSA for using your phone while driving. Looking down at the phone as he’s passing a vehicle, he hits another and launches himself out of control.

After another scene where Dr. Strange is looking at his hands and reprimanding whoever stitched his hands together, again hinting at his arrogance, he decides there is only one option left. He visits a guy playing basketball and is told about an Eastern healer who made the impossible happen to his back.

Shortly after arriving at this Eastern healer’s sanctum, which comic book fans know as the Sanctum Sanctorum, Stephen is introduced to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). She fits the role very easily, even though there is an amusing fake-out where Strange confuses an older Japanese man complete with a Fu Manchu for Tilda’s character.

Then the effects start kicking in, and we learn that Doctor Strange is a quick study with a photographic memory. His first attempts at magic are clumsy as he blames it on his shaky hands. The effects borrow heavily from films like Dark City, where buildings literally fold and transform before you. Later on the villain Kaecilius, played by Mads Mikkelsen, ends up taking the effects to another level. He turns pieces of the city into a three-dimensional maze while the civilians are completely unaware.

The villain seems to have been yet another in the long-running trend of MCU firsts. They always seem to put the heroes up against their evil equivalents and not better-known villains, which is one thing the DC universe seems to have an advantage with.

The city-folding part of the film has been equated with the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Inception, where Ellen Page’s character folded a city around them in the dreamscape.

Possibly the biggest way that Doctor Strange borrowed from other films was its storyline, which is almost the same as The Matrix. You have a hero who comes from the realm of the ordinary and comes to realize he can bend and break the rules of that realm as he sees fit. In the end, he almost sacrifices himself to save the world, just like Neo did.

Strange’s Cape of Levitation seems to act a lot like the one from Michael Jai White’s Spawn, and the finale took the whole “portal in the sky” thing from several recent films like Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Avengers, Suicide Squad, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.

If you can ignore how much Doctor Strange seems to borrow from other movies, you might find yourself amazed at what is arguably the most entertaining action film of 2016.

[Featured Image by Marvel]