“Strange” is an apt word for this doctor, whose origin story bends both matter and mind. In the first 10 minutes of action, Doctor Strange establishes a propensity to move heaven and earth like clockwork, twisting reality as the forces of good and evil use mystical energies to fold the buildings of London around themselves in a parallel dimension.
It’s quite a lot to take in, really.

At first, Dr. Stephen Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) world seems normal enough. He’s a talented neurosurgeon, fulfilling every stereotype of egotistical arrogance. He orders others around with impunity, sees his relationship with fellow neurosurgeon Dr. Christine Palmer only through the lens of what he can get out of her, and turns away desperate cases out of fear that they’ll mar his perfect record.

But an accident turns his world upside down, and for the first time in his life, Dr. Strange feels powerless. His desperation drives him to find answers that modern science can’t provide—and in so doing, he encounters a world of mysticism that wields a power he had never thought possible. One thing leads to another, and suddenly Dr. Strange finds himself in the midst of an epic battle to protect the world from Kaecilius, a power-hungry mystic willing to align himself with darkness in order to escape death.

And so a neurosurgeon obsessed with avoiding failure learns to embrace the kind of power that is grounded in loss—a power that says, “It’s not about me,” a power that sees death as a way to save the lives of others. And when set against a villain bent on securing eternal life for himself at any cost, Dr. Strange’s moral transformation makes for a particularly potent statement. Power can be either life-consuming or life-giving; the choice between the two lies at the heart of this fantastical tale.

Though it’s couched in terms of Eastern mysticism, there is a lot of truth to be found in the themes of Doctor Strange. In fact, Kaecilius’s brand of villainy is a story as old as Babel and Eden; he strives to be like God without God, and the image of his demise looks frighteningly similar to hell itself. The evil in Doctor Strange is hungry and malicious, chaotic and twisted—exactly the picture of hellish power painted by the likes of Nietzsche and C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape. By contrast, the power to which Dr. Strange finally surrenders himself is selfless and unafraid of loss—and stronger for it.

This isn’t a movie to be watched lightly or without discernment—including, as it does, the previously mentioned Eastern mysticism as well as a fair amount of fantasy-style violence. But for those who enjoy thought-provoking questions of reality and morality, it will serve as an illuminating glimpse into the effects of pride, power, and sacrificial love. And the lesson in selflessness that this good doctor learns is a lesson well worth remembering. (Disney/Marvel)