Review - 'Doctor Strange'
Is there anything that Marvel Studios can't accomplish when it comes to adapting their wide roster of comic book heroes? As evidenced by the movie I just saw, I think not. Doctor Strange is like a middle finger to doubters that thought magic was a step too far. This film is full of gorgeous, insanely colorful spells and trippy, vertigo-inducing scenes that are beautifully psychedelic.
Doctor Strange follows, as you might have already guessed, Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch); an accomplished neurosurgeon who gets into a devastating car accident which leaves him with irreparable damage to his hands, making it impossible for him to do his job. He searches far and wide in desperation for a cure and eventually finds himself in a compound in Kathmandu, Nepal, speaking with the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). She introduces him to dimensions of the world that he never knew existed. During his training, he is forced to deal with the traitorous Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson).
I think I started completely having faith in Marvel after Guardians of the Galaxy proved to us that they could pull off a space opera with characters that include a talking raccoon and a talking tree AND have it exist in the same universe as the Avengers. I always knew that Marvel Studios knew what they were doing, but there was still a smidge of skepticism towards some of the more "out there" heroes. Now all I worry about when it comes to Marvel films is whether it will be good, great or superb. This one I would say falls firmly in the "great" territory and lands in the top tier of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
There are critics out there who have compared this film to Iron Man; saying it mirrors Tony Stark's story very closely. I have major reservations with those comparisons. Doctor Strange is vastly different than Iron Man. Sure, both protagonists are rich and masters at their profession and they both have bad things happen to them that force them to take on a new role as a hero. For me, that's where the similarities end. Doctor Strange is a story about faith and belief, not in God per se, but in one's own spirit. We are introduced to concepts that are completely new to the universe and are executed adeptly by director Scott Derrickson, the actors and the effects teams.
This brings me to the effects work in the film. These are hands-down the best special effects I've seen in a Marvel film. They're inventive, inspired and full of imagination. I was also immensely relieved to find out that it wasn't an Inception knock-off like the trailers seemed to suggest. Yes, some of the same illusions exist here that did in Nolan's film, but this is more colorful and takes everything a few steps further. One of my favorite moments is when the ancient one first gives non-believer Strange a taste of what he's been missing. I won't spoil it, but it's a spectacle that can't even really be described. I was also gob-smacked by the finale, which surprisingly wasn't spoiled in the trailers. There's a very inventive action sequence that had to take months-upon-months to stage.
The actors here are for the most part on-point. Benedict Cumberbatch does a great job portraying the troubled and arrogant Stephen Strange. He doesn't have the most stand-out performance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but he's no slouch either. Tilda Swinton, who plays the Ancient One is great. I know there was controversy surrounding the decision to cast a white female as a character who is typically an Asian male, but I don't think Marvel's intent was to white-wash. Controversy aside, she's a character that displays wisdom and pathos very well and whenever she's on-screen, you get a sense that she is immensely powerful. The villain, Kaecilius, played by fan-favorite Mads Mikkelson gets a short-shrifted, but not quite as badly as some of the other villains in these Marvel films. I at least understood this character's motivation and he did get some meaningful moments here and there. Chiwetel Ejiofor also does a good job as Karl Mordo, a mentor and companion to Strange. I enjoyed the rapport between these two characters, thought I wished they could have spent even more time together. Rachel McAdams is, unfortunately, not given much to do here at all. She gives an earnest performance as Christine Palmer who is Doctor Strange's complicated love interest, but every time she was on-screen it just seemed like box-ticking.
My main complaints about the film stem from the editing. I felt like this whole film was a bit rushed. The movie is pretty short, even by Marvel's standards. Running at just under two hours, the film could have used at least fifteen more minutes in the middle just to draw out Doctor Strange's training. That said, the film is never boring, and there are no gaping holes in the narrative that suggest that anything too substantial was missing. My other minor issue with the film is something it probably couldn't avoid. Doctor Strange is an origin story, and with origin stories you get a very familiar trajectory in terms of story beats that need to be hit. While the film throws numerous curve-balls to keep you off the scent, it still comes of as a tad formulaic at times, though it really goes for the throat with a finale that incorporates some really unique ideas.
Doctor Strange is a film with magnificent imagery, an engaging story and good characters. It might have a story that seems familiar and can be rushed at times, but that's about all it has going against it. We really do have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to these Marvel films and if their future movies can maintain this same level of quality; we're in very good hands. Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange is another sturdy brick in Marvel's formidable wall.