W.B. at the Movies: Doctor Strange


I was introduced to the Marvel Comics universe with Amazing Spider-Man #4, back in the day, and so my introduction was via the unique visual stylings of the incredible Steve Ditko. Accustomed to the he-man physiques of Superman and Batman, I was drawn to Ditko’s wiry Spider-Man, who really looked like a skinny teenager who had been imbued with the abilities of a radioactive spider. Jack Kirby gets the lion’s share of the credit for creating the “look” of Marvel Comics, but I always loved Steve Ditko more.

And so it should be no surprise that I was also a huge fan of Doctor Strange, Ditko’s other major contribution to the Marvel mythos. A brilliant surgeon whose hands are ruined in a car accident, Stephen Strange learns the mystic arts hoping to regain his delicate touch and is pulled into a magical battle between good and evil.

As uniquely iconic as Ditko’s Spider-Man was, so was Ditko’s mystic universe. It was a psychedelic ’60s collage of worlds turned upside down, planets and stars aligned in ways that were at once familiar and, well, strange. The stories were short but packed with weird adventure, with Strange’s nemesis Baron Mordo, the wisdom of the Ancient One, and reality turned inside out on a regular basis.

I was surprised and thrilled when they announced that Doctor Strange was to get his own major motion picture in the emerging Marvel Cinematic Universe and elated with the casting of the matchless Benedict Cumberbatch, who was born to play Doctor Strange as surely as he was born to play Sherlock Holmes. With the additions of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo and the surprising Tilda Swinton  as the Ancient One, Benedict Wong as Wong, and actors like Rachel MacAdams and Benjamin Bratt in supporting roles, everything seemed aligned for a great motion picture experience.

Even so, I did not expect to be as spectacularly entertained as I was when Red and I watched the film on Tuesday evening. About 20 minutes in, I leaned over and said to her, “This. Is. Tremendous!!!”

OK, I’ve stared at the blinking cursor for about 10 minutes now, trying to put my enthusiasm for this film into words that do not sound over-the-top effusive, so let me just go into full fanboy mode: Doctor Strange is, in my humble opinion, the best comic book movie to date. It’s loyal to the source material to the point that many scenes and special effects clearly used Ditko’s original work as story boards; the cast of brilliant actors forms a brilliant ensemble; the hero’s journey of Stephen Strange is well crafted, thrilling and as downright believable as can be given it’s a journey through alternate dimensions via astral form.

As the closing credits rolled, I was excited as I’ve been, probably, since the first or second Spider-Man movie, and the “bonus” scenes took me to a higher level of excitement. Marvel Studios has done it again. Wowzer. I can’t recommend this movie with more enthusiasm. ’Nuff said.