Well this was a surprise.
I hadn’t expected much from Doctor Strange, the advertising hadn’t enticed me and honestly I’m getting a headache from the constant online whining of fanboys about superhero movies. The Marvel cinematic universe grows every year and I have my problems with how it is overpraised and how their storytelling lacks in places however Doctor Strange was a welcome change. I really enjoyed this film, it’s a self-contained adventure with mind bending visuals, strong performances but introduces a whole corner to this ever-growing franchise.
There are two bright shining lights in director Scott Derrickson’s interpretation of Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme: the cast and the visuals. Your going to hear the same thing in a lot of the reviews but hopefully what I have to say won’t just be yelling into the void. This cast is actually insanely stacked, our hero Stephen Strange is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the mentors by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tilda Swinton, the love interest by Rachel McAdams and the villain by Mads Mikkelsen. Just Goddamn, that is pure talent right there. Now with the material their given, these actors knock it out of the park. Marvel is known for having really un-memorable villains and unfortunately that is the case here but Mads Mikkelsen is still fine actor, his performance had me convinced of his motivations and its a shame the film doesn’t do much to develop his character.
Like with many comic book films it involves a lot of world building and especially with the world of magic, its gonna take some effort. Ejiofor, Swinton and Benedict Wong really sell you on how this world works and some aspects of their culture. They’re basically magic monks who say weird words and make funny hand gestures and you believe it. Ejiofor’s conviction in his performance may seem too intense in places but damn his character’s journey in this film is great as he becomes disillusioned by the world he committed himself to but again this is a case of a character who could have used more development. It is the only the raw power of Ejiofor that makes the character of Mordo compelling and I do hope to see his character again in the future.
Finally our hero, Cumberbatch’s Strange has his similarities to Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark, his arrogance and pompous ego are never annoying to the audience but Cumberbatch is able to bring forth sympathy for the lost doctor. This character really shines in the final act, now the film kinda rushes Strange into the hero role but Cumberbatch really sells the character’s acceptance of his responsibilities well, he’s a narcissist who stands for something greater than himself. The most powerful scenes in this film are when the focus is on Cumberbatch’s emotional performance.
Now the visuals I would classify these into two categories: Kaleidoscope on Acid and Ditko Over 9000. The film has some pretty cool hand magic drawings and a kick ass astral projection fight scene but its these two sets of visuals that gets people buzzing. The Kalediscope stuff is trippy and it starts right in the first scene of the film as building move in and out of each other and it just gets crazier in the second act set piece. It’s basically Relativity by M.C Escher on mushrooms soaked in LSD, it’s really great fun. Its nothing compared to Ditko Over 9000, which I’ve named after Steve Ditko, the illustrator of the original Doctor Strange comics who created really unbelievable stuff. The visual effects artists should be commended for their talent as they successfully translated the page to the screen. Strange’s induction into the world of magic is the main showcase of this visual style and it is definitely reason number one to see it in IMAX 3D, I haven’t seen anything like it before.
Now the story behind the film isn’t the strongest, there are definite pacing issues, I felt the film rushed through important moments and dragged in others. I mentioned before I felt certain elements of the film lacked development and that’s also the case for some of the story lines. It’s not that I didn’t like the story lines, I just needed more from it and I definitely felt the film could have achieved that. Despite the lack of the development in places and the weak pacing, I found the conclusion of the film really satisfying. It had all the regular hallmarks of a superhero film, heroes vs villains, big CGI set pieces, dramatic music!! but then it shifts and a sequence occurs on-screen that literally seemed to be ripped straight from a comic book, it was refreshing.
Some other issues I had with the film was its over use of humour, Marvel films are known for their quips but recently I feel that they really undercut some of the more dramatic moments. I don’t need to laugh every two minutes, sometimes its okay if I’m caught up in the suspense or emotion. Doctor Strange doesn’t do this at every available moment but it gets annoying when it does, it also doesn’t mean this film isn’t funny, there are some decent moments of humour some of my favourites focused around the character of Wong.
Now lets quickly address the elephant in the room: whitewashing. If you’ve heard about this film then you’ve probably heard about the controversies about Tilda Swinton portraying a character known as The Ancient One. Yes this role was whitewashed, a white person is portraying a character depicted as Asian in the comic books. The statements from Marvel and Derrickson say this was to depart from the stereotype that the character represented and some are still not happy with that explanation. Whitewashing is a serious issue with Hollywood right now, it needs to be addressed and I hope we can find a resolution to this soon. That being said, Tilda Swinton has the best scene in this movie, its moving, beautiful and something I can’t wait to watch again. I know nothing of The Ancient One from the comic books but if the character represents any of what Swinton did in that scene, then they did it justice.
Doctor Strange is a great self-contained story within the Marvel Universe, if you’re not well versed in this franchise, don’t worry about it. The acting was great, the visuals are fantastic as I said before, this is a good time at the cinema. Also there are two post credits scenes with this film and they are both extremely entertaining and when the last one finished and the lights in the cinema came on I realised something that made me smile.
I am very excited about Marvel movies again.