Comic book-based movies continue to pour forth from Hollywood.
The newest addition is “Doctor Strange,” a film about a character that does not use traditional superpowers to fight evil. Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) uses the mystic arts to combat the dark forces of evil.
The story begins with Stephen Strange as a talented neurosurgeon with an ego the size of a whale. He easily taps into the brains of accident victims and, with steely confidence and steady hands, works his magic to save lives.
Humility is not a strong suit for Strange. He is, at best, insufferable.
Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) loves the man, but he has no time for her in his pursuit of being the doctor with the worst bedside manner in the U.S.
Things change for Strange when he suffers damage to his hands in an automobile crash. Left without the ability to do surgery, he searches for a means of restoring his hands.
After exhausting his medical options and his bank account, he hears of a man who suffered from an industrial accident that lost his ability to walk. The man (Benjamin Bratt) is somehow now able to play pickup games of basketball.
He tells Strange of a place in Nepal where there is a person known as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who helped him. Hopping on a plane to Nepal, Strange is introduced to the mystic arts.
At first, his arrogance gets in the way of understanding. He finds it hard to accept that there is a spiritual realm to the world. But after he experiences it firsthand, he begins to hunger for what these mystic arts can provide to him.
Strange’s initial goal is to regain the use of his hands for surgery. As time passes, we see how the hunger for the spiritual begins to transform Strange.
He begins to gain mastery of these arts at a high rate and comes to encounter an icon called the Eye of Agamotto. This icon and the readings he is doing allow Strange to begin to manipulate time.
On the surface, this is not a bad thing, but it runs counter to another sorcerer under the tutelage of the Ancient One.
Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is what one would call a fundamentalist. He believes that tampering with that which is natural in the mystic arts is taboo.
Using magic to change time is abhorrent to him. This sets up a collision between him and Strange.
The tension of the movie is accelerated by a former student leaving the confines of the instruction of the Ancient One and going after the dark force of the mystic arts.
Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) longs for eternal life. Dormammu is the lord of the dark forces; he enlists Kaecilius to open the doorway into this world in order for Dormammu to enter this time and space to wreak havoc.
Kaecilius is willing to do this on the promise of eternal life, and Doctor Strange must intervene if the world is to be saved.
“Doctor Strange” introduces the topic of the spiritual into the Marvel Universe.
In previous movies, we have seen threats from space and even the realm of the gods with the “Thor” movies. But the idea of the spiritual and mystic had not been broached.
The character of Doctor Strange goes on a journey of enlightenment and comes through the process of losing himself in order to be reborn. This offers opportunity for discussion around the gospel.
The words of John the Baptist, “He must increase and I must decrease,” come to mind. Strange’s spiritual rebirth follows that pathway.
Doctor Strange is one of my favorite characters in the Marvel Universe, but “Doctor Strange” is not one of my favorite Marvel movies.
It is serviceable, but it tries too hard to cram too much into the movie.
It has much backstory to tell to get viewers about the mechanics of the mystic arts and where Strange fits into the narrative. As a result, it speeds through to get to the confrontation that comes to bring the movie to a climax.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout and an intense crash sequence.
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Jon Spaihts and Scott Derrickson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch: Dr. Stephen Strange; Chiwetel Ejiofor: Mordo; Rachel McAdams: Christine Palmer; Tilda Swinton: The Ancient One; Mads Mikkelsen: Kaecilius.
The film’s website is here.