Sunday, June 24, 2018
Things To Do

Review: 'Doctor Strange' is tongue-in-cheek Marvel at its best

Not since Iron Man has a superhero movie surprised and delighted like Doctor Strange, after eight years of Marvel glut and DC rebuttals in-between.

Like Iron Man B.D. (Before Downey), Doctor Strange is a second-tier Marvel superhero, less renowned than any Avenger not named Hawkeye. Knowing next to nothing about a comic book hero is handy when origin stories are mandatory. Unless you're into seeing Peter Parker's spider bite or Bruce Wayne's traumatic childhood again.

Planning beyond the Avengers assembly line, Marvel needs another Iron Man-like sucker punch with another Robert Downey Jr. performance shaking up perceptions of what superheroes can be. There's a lot of Tony Stark in Dr. Stephen Strange, and dashes of Downey in Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Marvel's next big thing among several.

Cumberbatch is inspired casting as Stephen, displaying a limber sense of humor seldom surfacing in his capital-T thespian choices. A brilliant neurosurgeon, Strange operates to the beat of a ego-massaging soundtrack; a Shining Star in the O.R. or maybe Marvin Gaye. Cumberbatch introduces the character in full jaunt, asserting superiority while charming Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) against her better judgment.

Strange is changed when a car crash crushes his hands beyond repair, at least by medical means, though he blows a fortune attempting in vain. He's pointed by a therapist to a former paraplegic (Benjamin Bratt) now playing pickup basketball, who credits his healing to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) in Kathmandu.

"You mean like the Bob Seger song?" Christine asks for any baby boomers in the crowd. Doctor Strange is generous with toss-away chuckles like that.

Trekking to Nepal, Stephen meets the Ancient One, her right-hand sorcerer Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a stone-faced mystic librarian named Wong (Benedict Wong) who'll teach him to harness his gift for turning hand gestures into sparkler twirls. It's cooler than that, but this movie is that sort of fun.

Doctor Strange is a unique superhero, dealing with supernatural threats the Avengers can't handle. This occasionally takes the movie into serious head trip territory; astral projections, roll-top architecture, Cronenberg surgery, a mashup of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Thor's Asgard drenched in M.C. Escher. Far out is an outdated yet appropriate compliment for this movie's look.

Director Scott Derrickson, a horror genre refugee, keeps everyone's tongues slightly in cheek, even when possessed as Swinton's glazed sensei suggests. The villain is the Ancient One's rogue disciple Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who basically steals pages from a library reference book of spells (but quietly). A doomsday threat is countered by a tactic that might work for a child wanting to play outside. This movie gets comic relief from a cloak of levitation with a mind of its own. How much Saturday morning matinee fun is that?

But it's kid stuff with a solid geek angle, laying out parameters of a Dark Dimension with plenty of spatial paradoxes and pseudo-physics lingo for the Comic Con crowd. Derrickson and co-writers Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill make concepts of folding time and matter easier to swallow than most blockbuster attempts.

Those fantasies give Doctor Strange its signature quirk, breaking through to a Mirror Dimension, behind the scenes of reality, where cityscapes warp without mortals realizing. A foot chase is much more interesting when it's up the side of a morphing skyscraper, and roughing up the hero is more thrilling when it's done by a rotating hallway. It's Inception with action, and ideas more inviting.

A nice balance of solemn myth making and genre irreverence lifts Doctor Strange to Marvel's first tier of movie franchises. A title card promises his return, and not one but two end credits scenes confirms it, as soon as next summer. The doctor is in. Make an appointment.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

Comments

Sports on TV/radio for Sunday, June 24

TODAYAutosFormula 1: French Grand Prix10 a.m.ESPN2IndyCar: Kohler Grand Prix1 p.m.NBCSNMonster Energy Cup: Toyota/Save Mart 3503 p.m.FS1; 102.5-FMNHRA: Summit Racing Equipment Nationals (taped)6:30 p.m.FS1BaseballYankees at Rays1 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMM...
Published: 06/23/18
See Datz pastry chef Alicia Wolding on Netflix’s Sugar Rush

See Datz pastry chef Alicia Wolding on Netflix’s Sugar Rush

When Alicia Wolding joined Datz as the new executive pastry chef last year her hair was rainbow — pretty much the whole ROY G BIV spectrum in cascading tresses. More recently, it’s bright purple, somewhere between iris and lilac. This is the color yo...
Published: 06/22/18
5 recent shows to catch up on over the summer

5 recent shows to catch up on over the summer

emember all those TV shows you’ve heard about but never watched, saving them for that proverbial someday? Summer is the best time to finally watch them — curtains drawn, A/C cranked down to 70. Quick, before fall gets here, and critics start insistin...
Published: 06/22/18
Top things to do in Tampa Bay on Saturday

Top things to do in Tampa Bay on Saturday

Our editors' picks for June 23, 2018.
Published: 06/22/18
St. Petersburg couple drive a minivan, volunteer at church and were CIA spies

St. Petersburg couple drive a minivan, volunteer at church and were CIA spies

What's it like to start a family when you're working for the CIA? Jihi and Andrew Bustamante know.
Published: 06/22/18
Boy George, coming to Tampa with Culture Club, talks fame, Pulse and the term ‘LGBTQ’

Boy George, coming to Tampa with Culture Club, talks fame, Pulse and the term ‘LGBTQ’

It’ll still be June when Boy George arrives in Florida this week to kick off a summer U.S. tour with Culture Club. But the LGBTQ icon says it won’t feel quite like a Pride parade. "I also bake cakes for straight people," he laughed. "Tha...
Published: 06/22/18
ScART program empowers people to explore their scars and express their feelings through art

ScART program empowers people to explore their scars and express their feelings through art

ST. PETERSBURGShyly, 8-year-old Annabelle Brassfield climbed atop a stool in front of a blank easel, grabbed a brush she named Scarlet and prepared to paint her scars. After three open heart surgeries for a severe congenital heart defect, she’s left ...
Published: 06/22/18
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 23

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 23

St. Pete Pride Block Party and Night Parade: St. Pete Pride’s popular parade has moved to downtown St. Petersburg’s scenic waterfront. The block party brings DJs, food and drinks starting at 2 p.m. The parade steps off at Fifth Ave NE and Bayshore at...
Published: 06/22/18
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 24

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 24

Summer Classic Movie Series: See 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird. 3 p.m., Tampa Theatre, 711 Franklin St., Tampa. $10, $7 members. (813) 274-8982; tampatheatre.org.St. Pete Pride Festival: The daytime festival covers Central Avenue’s Grand Central Distr...
Published: 06/22/18
Column: We can still save wild Florida, but time for panthers, black bears and us is running out

Column: We can still save wild Florida, but time for panthers, black bears and us is running out

When we dipped our paddles into Florida Bay at the mangrove fringe of Everglades National Park and took the first strokes of the 2012 Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, I’m not sure I fully understood the scope of the challenge we were facin...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18