Doctor Strange is the second movie in Marvel’s ‘Phase Three’ line up and it acts as the start of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) jumping straight into the world of the mystical arts and the renowned multiverse for its heroes. In spite of its overly formulaic screenplay and severely underwritten villain, it is still hugely entertaining for everyone with strong performances across the board – Benedict Cumberbatch once again showing off his unparalleled excellence in playing the role of a genius.
Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) has a wildly successful career as a highly accomplished but egotistical and self-centred neurosurgeon, only caring about himself rather than the people around him. However, a fatal car accident destroys his steady hands, making them shake uncontrollably. It effectively takes away his uncanny ability to conduct surgery, thereby ending his career. Strange starts to search for a way to miraculously repair his hands; a medically impossible feat as he describes it. As his faith in finding a solution fizzes away, he encounters the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who becomes his mentor in channelling energy from the mystic arts to heal his body. As he learns the ways of magic from the Ancient One and her disciple, Master Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a dangerous enemy emerges in the form of a master gone rouge, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) who has plans to destroy Earth to gain immortality for himself.
It will come as no surprise to movie goers that Doctor Strange will feel strangely familiar (pun intended) to past Marvel superhero origin stories with its light-hearted tone and uncomplicated storyline. While the déjà vu in that much beaten path is clearly sensed throughout the entire film, it hardly heads south for the movie as it will still resonate with everyone with its modern era jokes which are actually funny and a charismatic lead in Cumberbatch who makes an arrogant human being become an incredibly likable superhero. The only difference Doctor Strange has from past Marvel films is its tectonic shift away from the mostly grounded MCU and into the conversations of alternate realities, dimensions and magic. It is admirable how they moulded the script to make such a sophisticated concept like the space-time continuum or manipulation of time travel to be easily understandable for people from all walks of life.
Still, it may dawn on some people through the show that Strange’s transformation into the Sorcerer Supreme can feel a bit too rushed at times. The character development department felt unbalanced and desperately in need of more screen time. Relationships forged and interactions with certain characters such as Rachel McAdams’s Christine Palmer felt too brief and superficial for someone so important in Strange’s life. You could say it was a good problem to have as the exchanges between characters were at least engaging. If the script continued to produce such an effect, I wouldn’t mind at all if the film became more dialogue driven. The building up and tearing down of relationships, vice versa, were always satisfying to watch unfold. There was always something to take away from the talky parts – like a small corner of the character’s history which spiced things up and there were too little of those moments.
Marvel is making it an infamous tradition for its movies to suffer from less than compelling villains and Doctor Strange is no exception. With Kaecilius being the next case study, he continues that unfortunate tradition. While Mikkelsen is a talented actor in his own right, his character was played out in a very shallow manner. The motivations which drive his evil intentions were at best, fogged and as and choppy as the spaces he warps. He does have his decent back and forth moments with Strange and the Ancient One but there is nothing too standout for Kaecilius to stray away from that ill reputation.
For the many rounds of applause the A-list cast and Kevin Feige will receive for producing Doctor Strange, the studios in charge of polishing the effects deserve the same amount of credit. Take nothing away from them, they did brilliant work in creating the eye-popping visuals which were most certainly very fitting when Strange starts to conjure his range of supernatural spells. It was a treat for our eyes to behold; a psychedelic, quite possibly, visually orgasmic extravaganza for some.
Doctor Strange does an amazing job of being the catalyst in expanding the MCU and introducing us to a large, trippy world of mysticism. At the same time, it releases a truckload of potential for future films to explore new storylines which involve those supernatural entities. It is clear that the very power he possesses can have a symbolic effect on The Avengers in the times to come. Now that his origin story has arrived on the big screen, it successfully imbues a sense of freshness into the franchise and I cannot wait for the future episodes Marvel has in store for Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange.
Directed by: Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Sinister)
Written by: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Based on: Doctor Strange by Stan Lee
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton
Running Time: 115 minutes