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With Parallels To Iron Man, Mystic 'Dr. Strange' Comes Full Circle For Marvel Fans

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Dr. Strange is the latest hero to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He's unique among the Marvel crew in that his powers come from sorcery rather than technology or mutation or the bite of a radioactive spider. Chris Klimek has this review of the new film.

CHRIS KLIMEK, BYLINE: It's taken Marvel Studios 14 movies to get around to introducing their Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Stephen Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts. And it feels like they've come full circle.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DOCTOR STRANGE")

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: (As Dr. Stephen Strange) How'd I get from here to there?

TILDA SWINTON: (As The Ancient One) How did you become a doctor?

CUMBERBATCH: (As Dr. Stephen Strange) Study and practice. Years of it.

KLIMEK: Other studios turned Spider-Man and the X-Men into movie stars, but Marvel itself didn't start making movies until 2008's "Iron Man." And "Iron Man" is the one "Doctor Strange" most resembles. They're both about rich and self-absorbed geniuses brought low only to discover their heroic destiny and the meaning of sacrifice. It's easy to imagine Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Strange, swapping roles with Robert Downey Jr. The movies wouldn't be much different. They're both scheduled to show up in the next Avengers. But first, we've got this origin story to get through.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DOCTOR STRANGE")

CUMBERBATCH: (As Dr. Stephen Strange) You know, I invented the laminectomy procedure, and yet somehow no one seems to want to call it the Strange technique.

RACHEL MCADAMS: (As Christine Palmer) We invented that technique.

KLIMEK: Instead of being a brilliant weapons designer, Strange is a brilliant neurosurgeon. He chooses his patients carefully, taking only cases that can bring him fame and glory. When a car accident - his fault - ruins his hands and Western medicine can't help, he seeks a cure in Kathmandu.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DOCTOR STRANGE")

CUMBERBATCH: (As Dr. Stephen Strange) What did you just do to me?

SWINTON: (As The Ancient One) I pushed your astral form out of your physical form.

CUMBERBATCH: (As Dr. Stephen Strange) What's in that tea? Psilocybin? LSD?

SWINTON: (As The Ancient One) It's just tea with a little honey.

KLIMEK: Tilda Swinton is terrific as the movie's Yoda figure and the only one of several Academy Award winners or nominees here who doesn't feel confined. She's funny and mischievous and complicated. One knock on the Marvel movies has been that they're visually unadventurous. You can't say that about this one, which takes the streets and canyons of New York and Hong Kong and London and ratchets them around like the sides of a Rubik's Cube. This time, the 3-D surcharge might actually be worth ponying up for.

It's good that the eye candy is sweeter than usual because the hero's journey narrative is even more transparent, not just because Cumberbatch and Swinton spend many scenes as ghostly astral projections of their physical selves. Of course Strange rises to the occasion of protecting us from our mystical enemies and teeing up sequels, even if he needs a cloak of levitation to do it.

He also messes with the flow of time, a cheat superhero flicks have been relying on since Christopher Reeve hit the rewind button to bring Margot Kidder back to life almost 40 years ago. I thought Cumberbatch's spit curl and red cape combo looked a little familiar. I guess these movies really have come full circle.

MARTIN: That was independent film critic Chris Klimek. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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