Doctor Strange Review
Doctor Strange was never going to be an easy one for Marvel to adapt. We may have been from Asgard to the other side of the galaxy, but there was always something a bit too- dare I say it?- strange about Marvel’s most magical character. It’s a set up that could easily fall into camp or self-parody without the right approach. Enter Scott Derrickson, a very different director from other Marvel projects having primarily worked in the past on horror movies, but could that difference be just the thing that Marvel needs right now?
Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant, if supremely arrogant, neurosurgeon. When a car accident causes extensive nerve damage in his hands, putting an end to his surgical career, Strange becomes desperate for a solution to get his life back, even pushing away the woman who loves him, Christine (Rachel McAdams), in the process. His search leads him to the sanctuary of Kamar-Taj, where the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), along with the help of Wong (Benedict Wong) and Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), train Stephen in the mystical arts of magic. However a former student of the Ancient One, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelssen), has stolen a ritual that will allow him to plunge this world into the Dark Dimension.
The problem with origin stories is that there are a lot of certain story beats that have to be met and we’ve seen them so many times. The hero gets their powers, has doubts about their powers, loses someone- typically either a loved one or mentor- but in the end rises to the challenge and defeats a foe that typically has very similar powers to their own. To that end Doctor Strange is regrettably nothing new. It is very reliably by the numbers and offers nothing much new in terms of the story despite hitting those beats well. However what really sets it apart, although not above, other Marvel movies of its kind is the sheer amount of character, spectacle, and a surprising amount of humour that is on display here. This is the most visually ambitious Marvel film to date, with city bending set pieces and some real mind screw moments. It’s spectacular and one of the few places where I would say that if you like 3D see this in 3D because it actually does add to the trippy nature of those moments. The action is also mercifully clear and dynamic, no shaky cam here.
One of the things I like about Scott Derrickson’s work is that he brings a practical approach to the impossible. The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Deliver Us From Evil in particular come from places of very grounded characters, a lawyer and a cop respectively, trying to deal with the supernatural, and it’s the same here. Stephen Strange is a practical and sensible man. Yes, he’s also a jerk with an ego to rival Tony Stark’s, and isn’t THAT gonna be fun to watch when he eventually meets the Avengers, but he is above all a man of science and the physical world. It’s a good angle and allows for the audience to discover the more weird aspects of the plot whilst never being mocking of it. This is also helped by the dry humour of the script, written by Derrickson with Jon Spaihts and C Robert Cargill, the latter whom also co-wrote the film Sinister with Derrickson. This is possibly the funniest Marvel film since Guardians of the Galaxy, another property thought to be a little too off-beat with a curious choice of director, but those laughs are never to the detriment of the more dramatic scenes. There are a couple of moments that feel less than genuine and are clearly being done because of script needs rather than because of the story flow, but they are minimal.
I’ve never been overly impressed with Benedict Cumberbatch as an actor, but he’s really good here, possibly because he’s playing a character with an actual personality rather than a vague collection of quirks. Strange’s journey is one of letting go; of his ego, of his previous life as a surgeon, of his own concept of the universe. He’s backed up by a really solid supporting cast, particularly Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo. Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius isn’t on the level of the best Marvel villains, AKA Loki, but is a big improvement on some of the one-note villains we’ve seen before.
The film also ends in a place that is very satisfying because of how uncertain it is. Not everything is wrapped up in a bow and it leaves us in a great jumping off place for Doctor Strange 2: Strange Harder, at least that’s what I assume it will be called, The Avengers: Infinity War, and Thor: Ragnarok, which I am even more excited for than ever.
It doesn’t break the mould in terms of superhero narratives, but what Doctor Strange does well it does really, really, well, and is more than capable of entertaining, dazzling, and mind boggling those who see it.