Doctor Strange (2016)
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Written by: Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton
Reviewer: Stephen Bray
In the first origin film of Marvel’s Phase Three, the audience is introduced to the more mystical realms of the Universe within which dwell sorcerers, demons and all things magical. Unlike the technology of Asgard in the Thor movies, Marvel are now making a point of the separation between science and mystical arts.
Stephen Strange is an interesting character and a man who has devoted his entire life to the study and practise of medicine. He is a profoundly good surgeon and an even more profoundly successful man. As many have said, there is a mirror image of Tony Stark within him and the character journey is very similar, but it is not identical. Whilst Iron Man delivered a character in Tony Stark that was sarcastic, arrogant and extremely intellectual, the execution of the story was different.
Allow me to elaborate. Tony Stark was held hostage in a cave, and upon realising everything he had used his intellect for had aided the advancement of Middle Eastern terrorism, he utilised his intellect in a different way. He built the suit and protected people. Tony remained sarcastic and arrogant, but he built the Iron Man suit and became a guardian of mankind too.
Stephen Strange, on the other hand, was just as arrogant and selfish and delivers countless witty lines of sarcasm to make viewers chuckle. The vital difference is that his intellect does not change tactics. Rather, this is a story about a man having to forget his intellect entirely. Instead, Strange’s story is about him broadening his horizon and accepting the impossible as well as leaving selfishness behind and becoming a guardian of the multi-verse. It is this crucial difference to Tony Stark that prevents Doctor Strange being a simple reboot of Iron Man to lead into the next generation of Avengers.
Beyond this, it is a pretty standard Marvel movie. Mikkelsen’s Caecilus was an interesting but underplayed villain. In a similar way to the protagonist, his presence seems to be primarily to introduce a new world of powers and magic that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has not encountered yet.
Despite this, the action is superb. Balanced by intricate sets and mind-blowing special effects, Doctor Strange flushes Inception down the toilet, as if to say: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet”. It’s an exquisite piece of artwork and lends a complementary effect to 3D, making those extra coins leaving your pocket worthwhile for the first time since Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity.
So, on a scale of Iron Man 2 to Captain America: Civil War, it’s easy to say that Doctor Strange ranks at around the Ant-Man mark and is indeed promising for the future. Origin stories are notoriously difficult to produce with the pressure of maintaining both quality and pure entertainment. Yet Marvel are still sweeping these films out in good shape like a top-of-the-line car factory.
There are things to get past, of course. It’s horrifically strange to hear Cumberbatch wielding an American accent: although the accent is fine, it doesn’t feel it because he has become entirely associated with the avuncular English voices of Sherlock, Smaug and Khan. Additionally, McAdams’ character has potential as a love interest but does not convince in her importance; more as character leverage that a best friend or a pet dog could have filled in just as well.
Think past the relatively irrelevant flaws, though and Doctor Strange is fun, funny, exhilarating and eye-opening. It may leave you wanting more but then, any standalone film leading up to an ensemble Avengers film should do exactly that. Civil War left us wondering how a team can work after they ripped themselves apart, and now Doctor Strange has left us wondering how magic will play into the wider story of the Infinity War. When the time comes, I’m sure Thor: Ragnarok will leave us asking plenty too. Doctor Strange is one slice of a giant pizza, and it was definitely a tasty slice.