Director: Scott Derrickson
Writers: Scott Derrickson, Jon Spaihts, and C. Robert Cargill
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Scott Adkins, Benjamin Bratt, and Tilda Swinton
Synopsis: A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
*Reviewer Note 2: There are two post-credit scenes.*
*Reviewer Note 3: I do think the best experience of watching the film is in 3D. I know the extra ticket price and 3D in general might be a pain, but I think it’s worth it to gain the full experience.*
It feels like the last three years, Marvel has released films that everyone has either doubts about or feels like Marvel is taking too big of a risk. First it was Guardians of the Galaxy, then Ant-Man, and this year is Doctor Strange. And of course, every year those doubts are proven wrong. Not only is Doctor Strange another great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it truly is unlike anything Marvel has ever done onscreen.
The film follows Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), highly popular but arrogant surgeon whose life gets turned upside when he’s in a sudden car accident that severely injuries his hands. When he runs out of options to gets his hands better, he heads to Nepal to search for someone that could potentially cure him. That person is The Ancient One (Swinton), who then reveals to Strange that her way is through the mystic arts. While Strange is learning things he never thought were possible, an old student of The Anicent One, Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) is trying to open a portal to The Dark Dimension and summon a dangerous entity in Dormammu.
Like the previous films I’ve mentioned, Doctor Strange was a risk for Marvel since not many causal movie fans will know who Doctor Strange is, but more importantly, the film is adding something and putting front and center in the MCU: magic. The interdimensional aspect of the film only works because of director Scott Derrickson. He was able to bring some really great and awesome looking visual effects that I’ve rarely ever seen on film. It also helps that Derrickson has worked in horror, because you can see that in some of the shots, especially when the Dark Dimension comes into play. You will definitely walk away talking about the visuals of Doctor Strange. Also, for a film that delves into magic quite a bit, I was surprised how much hand-to-hand combat there was in the film. Not complaining, just an observation.
When it comes to the film itself, Doctor Strange does feel familiar in terms of what we’ve seen before from Marvel in the way of an origin story. We see the arrogant and egotistical character on the top of his game when suddenly something tragic happens and he’s having a self-made crisis until he has to rise to the occasion and prove himself. Of course, it’s always nice to see those stories play out, and Doctor Strange does enough to make that formula work for it, instead of against it.
Benedict Cumberbatch is pretty much perfect as Doctor Stephen Strange. He finds the right balance of arrogance and likeability to keep us invested in his story until the very end. However, one of the big highlights – cast wise – is Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. “White-washing” controversy aside, which never made sense to me because it’s Tilda Swinton, she almost steals the show every time she’s onscreen. She also has her own balance of being a mentor, but someone who must keep her distance from people because of the responsibly of being the Sorcerer Supreme.
Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo has his own history before the film that is hinted at, but is a by-the-books kind of warrior that teaches Strange along the way. Benedict Wong’s Wong is another highlight of the film, although I wish we had a little more with him. When it comes to Mads Mikkelsen’s villain Kaecilius, I’m sure many will see him as another underdeveloped villain that doesn’t fix Marvel’s villain problem. I wouldn’t be doing a good job of a reviewer if I didn’t agree with that to some extent.
Kaecilius doesn’t see himself as a villain and that usually makes the best kind of villains. Everything he does he thinks is for a grander purpose and makes a sound enough reason for his actions when he goes face-to-face with Strange, something even he points out that sounds good in theory, but in action not so much. However, the thing that keeps us invest in Kaecilius’ story – even for a moment – is Mikkelsen, who is always great in everything he does, and the same can be said here. But, it would have been nice to spend more time with him, and even see just a bit on how he became the way he becomes onscreen instead of just being told.
One of the biggest cast missteps is Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer. There’s no denying McAdams is a great actress, and anytime she’s in something you know she’s going to give one hundred percent. However, here, she entirely wasted. Palmer doesn’t add much to the story. She does have one key moment before the final act of the film, but that is about it. Although, many probably won’t know him too much, Michael Stuhlbarg pops in the film as Dr. Nicohemus West, a character from the comics, and somewhat rival to Strange, but it’s nothing more than a lesser supporting role.
All in all, Doctor Strange is truly unlike anything Marvel has ever done before in terms of visuals and the “out there-ness” of it all. While the film does have some familiar beat-for-beat origin story Marvel moments, and loses just a bit of steam in the final act, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton keeps us invest from start to finish.
4 out of 5