We’ve been here before. It’s “A Christmas Carol” relocated from London to Greenwich Village, but the Scrooge character undergoes an identical transformation. It’s “Regarding Henry” (1991) where a cold-hearted lawyer played by Harrison Ford gets shot in the head and emerges from a coma a much nicer guy.
This time around, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is equal parts brilliant surgeon and SOB. Because he is a narcissistic jerk, he’s driving his sports car — in the rain — on a narrow, twisting, mountain road at about 99 miles an hour, all the while staring at his console-mounted email evaluating an X-ray.
The inevitable — and spectacular — crash that ensues results in the ruination of the surgeon’s hands. Very bad news. Through his long convalescence and physical therapy, two things don’t change. His hands do not regain their old dexterity and he’s still an SOB. Impatient for results, he follows up on a rumor that a similarly hopeless case tried alternative therapy and got well. Strange tracks the fellow down and learns that the alternative therapy in question is available at a mysterious address in Kathmandu.
Off goes the good doctor to the capital of Nepal. As you might expect, clothing styles there have not changed since the Tang Dynasty. Our man locates a cabal of sorcerers led by a shaven-headed Tilda Swinton. Though weird, they might effect his cure but, of course, he must first be purified. The ritual purification entails both rough-and-tumble calisthenics (careful of the hands!) and an immersion in sacred mumbo-jumbo with an emphasis on the “astral plains,” which appear to be located well east of the Great Plains.
The peace-loving, robe-wearing ascetics who have taken in Strange are sitting ducks for the forces of evil. Enter Kaecilius, whose middle name, if he had one, would be Evil. He’s played by the original melancholy Dane, Mads Mikkelsen, who was Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the TV series. They don’t get any more sociopathic, which is the way the studio, courtesy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, likes it.
And gradually, through all the fighting and blowing up and magic, you realize this is not the story of Doctor Strange getting his hands back. It’s another superhero origin story — as if the folks at Marvel don’t have enough of those already. Jeez!
The special effects are groovy, although they are the same ones you saw in “Inception” (2010). Oh, and speaking of reruns, the final act is straight out of “Groundhog Day.”
Twelve-year-old boys will like it.