Image via Marvel Studios
By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth! It’s ‘Doctor Strange’ at last! We’ve known that Marvel was making a film of the Sorcerer Supreme for years now, so it’s hard to believe it’s finally here. But is it any good?
For those unfamiliar with the comics upon which the film is based, the plot revolves around a gifted but arrogant neurosurgeon, Doctor Stephen Strange, who loses the dexterity of his hands in a car accident and in his quest to heal them, stumbles upon a mystical world filled with magic, power and a threat that could destroy the world. ‘Doctor Strange’, Marvel Studio’s 14th feature in its rapidly expanding cinematic universe, is a textbook origin story but it’s made from the same textbook that gave us ‘Iron Man’ back in 2008, and that’s as entertaining as it gets. There are, therefore, comparisons to be drawn between the two films. In terms of plot and character, ‘Strange’ is the closest Marvel has come to replicating its own first film.
Whereas ‘Iron Man’ introduced us to a grounded world of armoured suits and high technology, ‘Doctor Strange’ reveals a whole new realm to the MCU: a world of magic. It’s Marvel’s version of ‘Harry Potter’ and the way it’s woven into the story and explained doesn’t make it feel too out of place in the real world. It requires a fair chunk of exposition, which some may have a problem with but overall seemed a natural solution to the problem of explaining the world’s lore. And besides it allows more time to focus on Strange himself.
Director, Scott Derrickson, does an admirable job of keeping the Doctor front and centre and this movie does not let Benedict Cumberbatch go to waste. His performance makes ‘Doctor Strange’ work more than anything else, owning every frame, every scene from the moment his character is introduced. His American accent is odd to hear at first but it’s quickly forgotten that he ever sounded different. Cumberbatch’s deftness in transitioning between arrogant, angry, humorous and likeable is a wonder to behold. Stephen Strange is already firmly placed as one of my favourite characters in the MCU and I can hardly wait to see him go head to head with Tony Stark in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’.
Unfortunately the rest of the cast does come up a bit underused as a result of such an intense focus on the protagonist. Tilda Swinton is the standout among these, bringing intense emotion to her portrayal of the Ancient One, but Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong also have great moments. Rachel McAdams could have had more scenes but overall her role in the story works to propel Strange’s growth. It is Mads Mikkelson who comes off the worst, as is often the case with Marvel’s villains. He brings the performance but the lines just aren’t there to make you care about his motivations, much like Yellowjacket in last year’s ‘Ant-Man’.
This brings me to the main criticisms I have against ‘Doctor Strange’ and those are the film’s pacing and editing. So many scenes would have benefitted from being lengthier while others could have been trimmed a little. The first act suffers the most from this but it pervades throughout, and it brings down a notch what is otherwise a blast of a movie. It is a minor gripe but it’s surprising to see Marvel drop the ball on an aspect that they normally get right. All the other cinematic boxes are ticked though, with double ticks going to the score by Michael Giacchino and the cinematography by Ben Davis, who brings some truly stunning visual moments courtesy of him and the visual effects team. The film’s effects are reminiscent of ‘Inception’ in many ways but are more of an evolution of them rather than a straight copy. Derrickson weaves his horror touch into these as well and the results are truly stunning. The visual spectacle of this film is reason alone to seek out ‘Doctor Strange’ in cinemas.
When all is said and done, ‘Doctor Strange’ is a very entertaining film, a worthy addition to the Marvel collection and, despite a few storytelling issues, a blockbuster that I can’t wait to see again. Marvellous.