Marvel Films’ latest offering, Doctor Strange, is a much needed breath of fresh air in the studio’s seemingly never-ending slate of films.
The arrogant, but brilliant neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is humbled after a life-threatening accident takes away his livelihood. His dedication to his work forces him to seek out alternative methods of treatment to his injuries, sending him on a journey to seek training from The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), where he finds out that the world he knows is just one of many.
Doctor Strange is Marvel’s first film to tackle the mystical art of magic on the big screen and it pays off exceptionally well. Marvel have really pushed the boundaries on the visual-effects-front with this film and it’s certainly a sight to behold. The film sends the character, as well as its audience on a mind-bending trip down the multiverse, in many scenes that are reminiscent of the effects of hallucinogenic drugs. These extraordinary scenes make up for the film’s most lacking aspect – its story.
While not necessarily bad, once again the overall thematic direction is one that we’ve seen before in many Marvel films prior, as well as superhero films on the whole. You have your layered lead protagonist, thrust into a world that goes beyond their imagination, who after a bit of soul-searching are forced into a battle against the forces of evil – ones that are essentially trying to destroy the world. It’s a foundation story that we’ve seen many a time in superhero origin films, and one that we’ll probably see again regularly as more new characters get the feature film treatment.
What separates Doctor Strange from the rest of the films that fall in to a similar category story-wise, is it’s excellent treatment of its characters, and direction. Marvel have always been able to write characters with a lot of depth, and though we might not always see the full scope of a character’s persona in one film (after all we usually get about three movies per character to explore them), they’re always likeable and relatable, which is all that can really be expected in a tentpole blockbuster film. What helps a lot though is each actor’s performance.
Benedict Cumberbatch felt like he was born to play this role and is obviously experienced enough to do the character justice. The rest of the high-profile cast hit the mark with their performances, with Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor in roles that may not be the most challenging for them, still giving it their all. Rachel McAdams’ talents could have deserved a bit more focus, however with an already large cast, there is a balancing act at play (she’ll likely have a larger role to play in future films though). Benedict Wong was a fantastic addition to the film as Wong, though was mostly used as comedy relief (he too however does have a broader role to explore in upcoming films). It’s often the case in Marvel films that the villains end up being mostly forgettable. Unfortunately that is also the case here with Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius, whose motivations might be a bit more unique than what we’ve seen before, but his end-game is essentially old news. However, Mikkelsen (along with Cumberbatch and Swinton) adds a bit of much needed gravitas to the portrayal of his character.
The film excels in it’s direction and visual aesthetic. Director Scott Derrickson gets a lot out of the story in what felt like a small amount of time (always a good thing), while juggling awesome action set pieces, character development and humour. It’s these things that mask any issues the film may have, and they do make up for said issues. The film is practically a must-see at the cinema, and the 3D option is worth it. The 3D adds that extra depth of field, in a film that’s all about perspective and alternate realities/universes, and it almost feels like you’re in the film with the characters, just watching from one of many dimensions.
Doctor Strange is the type of film that’s all about the cinematic experience. It’s big, bold, fun, and visually and sonically invigorating.
Doctor Strange’s creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko based his appearance on Hollywood actor Vincent Price; the character even bears the middle name of Vincent.