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‘Doctor Strange’ Critical Roundup: Reviews Praise Benedict Cumberbatch’s Visionary Origin Story

Critics praise the film's psychedelic imagery but are less enthusiastic about its familiar origin story narrative.

Tilda Swinton Doctor Strange

“Doctor Strange”

Marvel

The first reviews are out for Marvel’s latest entry in their Cinematic Universe: Scott Derrickson’s “Doctor Strange,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch at the neurosurgeon-turned-mystical-hero and Tilda Swinton as his mentor The Ancient One. IndieWire’s own David Ehrlich says that it’s Marvel’s “most exciting addition to their ever-expanding universe since ‘The Avengers'” and that “it often feels as though it’s been shot through a kaleidoscope — it’s hollow, hypnotic, and every twist of the tube reflects a beautiful new dimension of infinite possibilities.” Other critics praise the film’s psychedelic imagery but are less enamored with its familiar origin story narrative.

READ MORE: ‘Doctor Strange’: Director Scott Derrickson Explains Why Tilda Swinton Was the Perfect Ancient One

The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy calls it “an engaging, smartly cast and sporadically eye-popping addition to the studio’s bulging portfolio” and especially praises the film’s performances.

“Do comics-derived films really require thespians of this caliber when the effects and genre elements are their raisons d’etre? Well, no, but they unquestionably class up the joint by injecting wit, elocution, faces with character and commanding presence into material that needs all the elevation it can get to not seem entirely juvenile.”

Variety’s Peter DeBruge says that it’s “Marvel’s most satisfying entry since ‘Spider-Man 2,'” mostly because of the Doctor Strange character and Cumberbatch’s performance, even though it’s still cut from the same corporate cloth.

“Yes, this new project shares the same look, feel, and fancy corporate sheen as the rest of Marvel’s rapidly expanding Avengers portfolio, but it also boasts an underlying originality and freshness missing from the increasingly cookie-cutter comic-book realm of late. From this second-tier side character, the studio has created a thrilling existential dilemma in which its flawed hero’s personal search for purpose dovetails beautifully with forays into the occult New Age realm of magic and sorcery where Doctor Strange ultimately finds his calling.”

Time Out’s Tom Huddleston argues it’s Marvel’s “weirdest and wackiest movie” so far and that it dips into the realm of the psychedelic.

“The Marvel-verse has never shied away from a bit of groovy psychedelia, from the prog-rock cityscapes of ‘Thor’ to Ant-Man’s voyage into cosmic inner space. But they’ve never gone full-bore down-the-rabbit-hole acid freakout – until now. There are sequences in ‘Doctor Strange’ that could burn the top layer off your eyeballs, crammed as they are with some of the most unashamedly drug-inspired imagery since the ‘The Simpsons’ episode where Homer takes peyote. But problems arise when ‘Doctor Strange’ tries to tackle the everyday stuff, like telling a half-decent story.”

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw echoes similar feelings about its psychedelic elements, praising the film’s visual aesthetic.

“‘Doctor Strange,’ the newest Marvel superhero, stars in a movie that, perhaps due to misalignments in the multiverse’s space-time parameters, comes too late to be the summer smash of 2016. This exotic action-adventure is very entertaining nonetheless: an eye-poppingly freaky extravaganza with city-folding moments of surreality comparable to Christopher Nolan’s Inception; yet it wears its digital accomplishment a bit more lightly. Marvel supremo Stan Lee is to be glimpsed making a cameo on a city bus, chuckling over a copy of Huxley’s ‘Doors of Perception’ – the closest the film comes to advocating illegal drug use.”

The Daily Beast’s Jen Yamato declares it’s “Marvel’s trippiest movie yet” and that it’s “one of the most visually dazzling superhero movies you’ve ever seen.”

“It’s the 14th outing in the super franchise that Marvel first launched with another arrogant rich jerk turned hero, Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man. But ‘Doctor Strange’ is also, notably, much more mature than its predecessors, and the first blockbuster of the modern superhero era ideally viewed on a magic mushroom trip — all the better to process the stunningly trippy and surprisingly spiritual kaleidoscopic jaunts Strange takes into the astral plane, pulling us along into the rabbit hole.”

READ MORE: ‘As They Continue to Fall’: Watch the ‘Doctor Strange’ Screenwriter’s Gripping New Short Film

ScreenCrush’s Matt Singer claims that it’s the most visually exciting Marvel film yet, but that almost everything else is lacking.

“The most common knock against Marvel’s cinematic universe? All their movies look the same. In a mega-franchise spanning 14 films and counting, that look can get pretty stale. For the most part, these movies about bravery are pretty timid when it comes to visual storytelling. Thankfully, no one is going to level that complaint against ‘Doctor Strange,’ which is easily the studio’s most exciting spectacle to date. Its hero, a former surgeon turned butt-kicking wizard, spends a fair amount of time exploring the multiverse, in sequences rendered with loads of bizarre, lysergic imagery. That’s the good news. The bad news is the studio’s most innovative visuals are wedded to one of its most formulaic origin stories. In some scenes, ‘Doctor Strange’ is Marvel’s most exciting movie yet. In others, it might be its most boring movie since ‘Iron Man 2.'”

ScreenDaily’s Tim Grierson says that the film struggles to add anything new to the superhero genre and that its familiarity is a liability.

“Entertaining in its grand flourishes but spottier when it comes to character work and thematic coherence, the film boasts a slightly darker and more mystical air than its peers, accentuated by some of the most arresting set pieces in the MCU canon. But much like Benedict Cumberbatch’s dutiful performance as the unlikely titular hero, ‘Doctor Strange’ is a just-good-enough proposition, successfully extending a commercial brand rather than promising that even-greater creative peaks are on the horizon.”

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