When there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call?
DIRECTOR: Scott Derrickson
PRODUCER: Kevin Feige
WRITERS: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
RUNNING TIME: 115 Minutes
GENRE: Superhero/Action Fantasy
INITIAL RELEASE: October 13 2016
STARRING: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton
Well, it’s that time of the year again, the spoopiest time of the year: Halloween! Yes, Halloween, the holiday no one outside the United States gives a hot shit on Sunday about, and yet a holiday we all talk about regardless. And really, what better time of year would there be for the release of Marvel’s latest solo hero vehicle Doctor Strange, whose trippy marketing campaign has promised us something a little…dare I say…out of the ordinary?
Anyway, onto the movie now: Doctor Strange tells the story of world-renowned neurosurgeon and narcissistic d-bag Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), whom after getting into a horrific car accident suffers nerve damage to his hands so severe that it ends his career prematurely. Desperate to restore his hands to working order, Stephen discovers another man who healed himself from a seemingly impossible injury, and this mysterious man ends up setting Stephen on the trail of the mystical Kamar-Taj, which may hold the secrets to Stephen healing himself. And then there’s like magic and shit.
For all its mind-bending and trippy marketing, Doctor Strange is another Marvel movie that sticks close to formula and delivers what is a fairly straightforward experience that we’ve generally come to expect from Marvel movies: strong story-telling, well-shot and exciting action sequences, and an excellent balancing of tone that offers light-hearted comic booky levity, but retains enough seriousness to be taken seriously in the right moments. It also has the same issues that often accompany the Marvel formula: pacing issues, a bland and over-familiar plot, and of course, a villain who gets little development and is promptly thrown under the bus by the film’s end (I don’t even really consider that a spoiler anymore). And while sticking to the formula too rigidly could be said to be a fairly valid criticism of the Marvel franchise as a whole, its difficult for me to complain too much when the formula is also so well-executed: say what you will, but these guys know what they’re doing.
That little screed aside, Doctor Strange does have some interesting elements to offer beyond just its strong formulaic execution. As I’ve alluded to several times already, Doctor Strange sold itself highly on its mind-bending visual elements, and its when the movie gleefully plays with these visuals that Doctor Strange really takes off. While there’s a handful of scenes with some truly fantastic balls-trippy visual set pieces, its actually one of the film’s earliest scenes that delivers the most exciting and insane of these little visual escapades into the bizarre, and I would argue these visual elements in their own right do a great deal to set Doctor Strange apart from the other Marvel solo hero vehicles.
And of course, I would remiss were I to not talk about the good Doctor himself, played expertly by Eggsbenedict Cabbagepatch, who feels right at home in the Marvel universe as the arrogant-yet-brilliant Strange. While the character himself is fairly familiar in his traits and arc, there are some interesting elements to his character that have some potential in movies further down the line to explore. Good though Benadryl Cummerbund was, the real show-stealer was Tilda Swinton’s portrayal of Stephen’s Strange’s master of the mystic arts The Ancient One. Of course Swinton isn’t a stranger to these kinds of roles, and her performance here is very clear reminder why that is the case, her performance being both very appropriate and very badass. Both Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong excelled in their roles as Karl Mordo and, er…Wong, respectively. Ejiofr’s portrayal of Mordo as a hard-nosed man of action made for an excellent foil to the more intellectual nature of Rumblefump’s Strange, and Benedict Wong provided some interesting comic relief as Wong, a role that was pleasantly restrained and deadpan. That said, the rest of the cast, though fine, felt wasted in their roles. Rachel McAdams was fine as the obligatory love interest, and Mads Mikkelsen made for a solid villain, but neither of their characters are given a lot to work with, and it was ultimately rather disappointing to see the two talented actors somewhat wasted in their roles.
As I mentioned before, Dcotor Strange’s problems come mainly in the form of the standard problems these movies typically have, a big part of which is the very stock standard and familiar “villain wants to destroy the world” plot: while its generally fine and works well here given that Doctor Strange is an origin story and thus has its biggest focus on introducing Strange as a new hero, it would still be nice to see one of these movies go with something a little more unorthodox. There is, as I mentioned before, some slight pacing issues, with certain developments and plot points coming and going a bit too quickly and certain story and character elements getting glossed over in quick fashion. The “glossing-over” point is particularly true in regards to villain Kaecilius, which given this a Marvel movie, is not overly surprising. But again, Doctor Strange is well executed enough that I can’t take much issue with even these problems when they tend to end up feeling very minor in the grand scheme of things. Hopefully, the well-treaded formula of these movies doesn’t lead to the scripts getting lazy, or else then we might have a problem in that regard.
Doctor Strange is another strong, if at times a little safe, entry into the ever-expanding library of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While its doesn’t stray far from what made these movies successful in the first place, Doctor Strange still offers the promised mind-bending trippy visuals that were advertised, and some strong performances to boot. I’m happy to give Doctor Strange a general recommendation, but its unwillingness to do anything really outside the box means that its unlikely to grab you if you’re not a fan of the Marvel movies up to this point.