The Marvel Cinematic Universe has always taken on daring properties to further its story. The Marvel brain trust has taken properties like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy and elevated them to become household names. Even Iron Man was a second rate character in the Marvel pantheon before Robert Downey Jr. made him the face of the MCU. Now thirteen films into this shared universe, we as the audience aren’t doubting Marvel anymore. And why should we? We have yet another character no one has heard of, and we another excellent entry into this universe. Doctor Strange boasts some of the more impressive visuals ever seen in a Hollywood film and some of the best acting to date in the MCU. It doesn’t break any new ground as an origin story and furthers the weak villain mantra the MCU has become known for. Yet, we have another fantastic entry into the ambitious collection of films Marvel has put together thus far.
Doctor Strange is directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister) and stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular doctor. The film also stars Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong and Mads Mikkelsen. Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a brilliant, egotistical neurosurgeon whose arrogance is clear throughout the film. Strange often turns down surgeries in an effort to not break his perfect record. After an automobile accident, Strange find his hands have succumbed to permanent nerve damage. Seeking answers he undergoes several unsuccessful surgeries before seeking out a more unconventional healing process. In his travels he meets The Ancient One (Swinton) and Mordo (Ejiofor) who may have a solution to his problem. As a growing threat endangers the multiverse The Ancient One and Mordo fight to protect, Strange must put aside his ego to save the world from destruction at the hands of a rogue student of The Ancient One (Mikkelsen) and a powerful and dark demon.
First and foremost, this film is terrifically cast and really well acted. Swinton drew much controversy after being cast as The Ancient One due to claims of whitewashing a traditionally Asian character. But Swinton is her own version of the character and it does work. Cumberbatch is excellent as our hero and his performance and believable American accent make him as a perfect choice for this character. It’s really just the way he looks and acts that really makes this character work. Strange is a skeptic, but he slowly is able to open his mind and put his gigantic ego aside. In that regard, the origin story aspect is a cliche. But Cumberbatch’s performance as well the sharp and often times funny dialogue manage to keep this film fresh and entertaining.
The dialogue ensures that the film never takes itself too seriously. Strange is very sarcastic and cynical. So much so that when Mordo hands him a piece of paper with the word “shamballa” written on it, he automatically assumes it’s his “mantra”. But Mordo reminds him they are not savages, and that shamballa is the wifi password. Strange’s sarcastic sense of humor is what keeps the film from drifting into a lull.
Mads Mikkelsen is the villain in the film and for the most part is largely wasted. But this is nothing new to the MCU. They’ve made a habit of placing forgettable villains in their stand alone films, with a few exceptions. It is a shame that a talent like Mikkelsen was underutilized. As an origin story, Doctor Strange drifts occasionally into cliched territory. But, with the Marvel stamp on it, it is still able to stay fresh for the most part. I did also find the ending to be a bit weak, but no spoilers here.
Derrickson previously directed Sinister, a film which I didn’t care much for. But maybe that’s just me being a cynic when it comes to horror films. Here, Derrickson weaves trippy visual sensations into a confidently directed film. The visuals are striking and really fun to watch. Several of the visual action sequences look like they were ripped right out of an M.C. Esher drawing. Cities fold into themselves much like in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. But this is Inception on steroids. While I didn’t see the film in 3D, I believe it is a film that would lend itself to that format very well.
Doctor Strange takes inherently silly subject matter like magic and turns it into a fun action and adventure film. I didn’t read Doctor Strange comics, but had heard of the character. You don’t have to be a comic expert or uber nerd to enjoy this film. In fact, if you go into Doctor Strange not knowing anything about the character, you might be surprised at how much you enjoy it. It certainly doesn’t crack my top five MCU films. It is too often a standard origin story to truly stand out and has another weak villain. However, Doctor Strange is a thoroughly entertaining, visually breathtaking and unique entry into the Marvel library.