The last time Marvel offered up something different from their standard superhero fare it was glorious and refreshing.
Superhero movies are a pretty safe bet right now. Iron Man, Captain America and Ant-Man have all proven successful with Spider-Man: Homecoming looking like it’ll bring more of the same for Marvel Studios. For me though, their greatest success in the modern ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ has been Guardians of the Galaxy. A film that struck the perfect balance of drama, action and comedy, but most importantly, gave the audience something new and refreshing to digest.
Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t a popular comic title and most modern Marvel fans wouldn’t be aware of Star Lord and crew if not for the movie, but great casting and writing brought the characters to life on the big screen in a film that looked grand in scope and beautiful to boot. It was that grandeur and aesthetic I hoped would be reproduced – and then some – for Doctor Strange as Marvel present the magical and mystical side of its character catalogue on the big screen for the first time.
Like Guardians of the Galaxy most cinemagoers will not be familiar with the source material. Doctor Stephen Strange first appeared in comics in 1963, created by artist Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. Strange is a brilliant but egotistical surgeon who suffers severe damage to his hands in a car accident. With his career in ruins Strange sets about searching the world in the pursuit of a cure. Only when he has nothing left to lose does he find his salvation and enlightenment.
Director Scott Derrickson speeds us through these events early on leaving the focus of the film on life after the accident. It is quickly establishing that Strange is obnoxious, yet likeable. His pedantry is matched by his attention to detail and ability to recall fact. His sense of humour isn’t as cultured as his taste for fineries and fast cars.
In the titular role Benedict Cumberbatch masters the look and actions of Doctor Strange protraying the character admirably, only faltering with a less than convincing American accent. Rachel McAdams is on-board as Christine Palmer serving as little more than an on/off love interest for Strange and an offended party who seemingly has the ability to forget how vile he treated her in his moment of need.
There was much to be said early in the promotion campaign for the film about the gender switch for Doctor Strange’s eventual mentor, the ‘Ancient One’ known as the ‘Sorcerer Supreme’. In this role Tilda Swinton shines brighter than all else exuding knowledge with calm dignity and charisma.
For as much of the action that takes place in our reality, an equal amount takes place on the astral plain and it’s here where the world-bending special effects kick in. With a gift for sorcery and a will to learn Strange is soon traversing dimensions.
Whilst much of the film is unremarkable in its aesthetic, the scenes where surroundings are being manipulated are impressive at the same time as being hard to assimilate. There’s literally so much movement on screen that at times it’s very difficult to really understand what’s happening.
Mads Mikkelsen is cast as the antagonist ‘Kaecilius’. His remit is to gift the Earth to a dark force in exchange for immortality. His role allegiance apparently comes with a fetching purple eye-shadow ensemble. Whilst perfectly adequate in the role the character lacks the gravitas to be convincing as a serious threat to the novice sorcerer, Stephen Strange, who matches his infinitely more experienced foe with comparative ease. One could argue that the real challenge comes in the form of a god-like celestial being at the climax of the movie. I won’t spoil how that pans out.
Sadly Doctor Strange just feels like another result of the Marvel production line. With the exception of the world altering special effects the film is visually unremarkable much of the time. Quite an indictment considering the natural beauty present in many of the locations. On top of this the plot is offensively linear. Point A leads to point B which leads to point C etc, etc… roll credits… end of credits scene? Keep reading.
What director Scott Derrickson has provided us with is ‘Marvel by numbers’, not necessarily the worst thing in the world. The film is well paced, full of action, lots of comedy (a particular highlight, actually) and does a good enough job of setting up Doctor Strange for future movies.
For me the film takes us on a journey too far. I would have preferred a slower build, focus more on Strange discovering his abilities and mastering his craft. A single adversary would have been sufficient without Earth threatening consequences. I would have liked to see more character development and above all, I would have liked the film to have felt epic. Compared to the forthcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to find Them it feels no more polished than Ant-Man. A real missed opportunity.
Should you see it?
Yes. Your expectations are now lowered sufficiently to really enjoy the ride.
Is there a Stan Lee cameo?
Of course. Like all Stan Lee cameos it is entirely unnecessary, I’m not a fan.
Is there a mid credit scene?
Yes. It is short but comical and features a Marvel movie favourite.
Is there a post credit scene?
You bet there is and the post credit scene is a must-see if you want to know where the Doctor Strange story is headed next.