TL;DR – This is visually one of the best Marvel films ever produced, strong cast, overall a great film, though I do have to say these Marvel films are starting to feel a bit safe.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
P.S. There is a mid and end credit sequence
Well, this Marvel machine keeps on churning, earlier this year we had the fantastic Captain America: Civil War [See Review] which at the time of writing is still on track to be my film of the year, but now Marvel takes a different tack and jumps into the world of the ‘mystical’. In many respects, Doctor Strange is an interesting film because at times it is almost at arms distance from the rest of the cinematic universe, yet also it is almost the most ‘Marvel’ film Marvel has put out.
Doctor Strange tells the story of Dr Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) a brilliant yet incredibly self-absorbed neurosurgeon, how self-absorbed you say? well, the movie goes to the extent of having him shrug off helping an Army veteran because it was too easy. Of course, the movie almost immediately punishes Strange by throwing him off a cliff, this is why you should never get distracted whilst driving, as the end credits reminds us. So Dr Strange is a man that depends on the skill of his hands to do his job, and of course, that’s where he receives the most severe nerve damage. It’s that most ancient of thing irony, or like many prophetic figures from history once they lose the thing that means the most for them they discover more to life than things. Now of course you would have thought this accident would have meant that Strange would have lost his ego and stopped being such an ass to his on again, off again partner Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), well you’d be wrong, but it does send him on his path to meet The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and Masters Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Master Wong (Benedict Wong).
So before we go on we need to talk about the thing that Doctor Strange excels in and that is the visual effects. This is the most visually impressive film Marvel has ever produced and that is comparing it to Civil War which had twelve superheroes duking it out for half the film. From the opening sequence you know this is going to be a heavy visual effects movie, and that’s not really unsurprising given this is a film is about sorcerers, but it does not prepare you for what is about to come. Where the film really excels is in the ‘mirror realm’ sequences where reality bends but only for those in the realm. So this means we get cities bending and tearing themselves apart, and gravity becoming quite flexible. In many respects it’s like they looked at Inception (a movie I love) and went, you know what let’s go further. As well as the mirror realm, we also get multiple spirit realms which might be the culmination of decades of work in cinema trying to depict an acid trip on film. Part of why the visual effects work is that all the actors commit to them, waving your hands around in the air is just silly until you add the effects on top of it, and it is hard for many in the business to pull off a convincing performance out of nothing. Another highlight must be a certain item of clothing which might be my favourite character in all of the film. For me, the best visual effects come in the final climactic part of the film, so it would be too spoilery to discuss here, but frankly I found them to be amazing. Everyone at Industrial Light and Magic deserves the coming Oscar nomination for their work here. I also liked that they actually went to Kathmandu to film the sequences there, it is such a vibrant and fascinating city which you just shouldn’t fake with a redress of southern Vancouver. The only issue with the visual effects I saw was some odd ragdoll at the start of the film but other than that everything worked well.
The other area the film excels in is in the casting and character creation, and that was not an easy job given the source material. Like Iron Man 3 with The Mandarin (which to go on record I loved the twist in IM3 with this character), a lot of the supporting cast in Doctor Strange comic are just racial stereotypes. So I liked the way they approached it here, which of course was always going to be a controversial no matter what they did. Firstly by having Benedict Wong, you can’t go wrong, he is one of Hollywood’s real up and coming actors and gives every role from the director of JPL in the Martian [See Review] to a commanding presence in Marco Polo, and he gives any role a layer of gravitas. Also while clearly controversial, I think it was a good choice to pick Tilda Swinton to play The Ancient One, because even though you are replacing a Tibetan man in the comics with a white women in the movie, Tilda Swinton is one of the best actresses in the world and she owns this complicated role. Now of course when you cast Mads Mikkelsen as you main villain Kaecilius you know you are going to get quality and there is no change with that here.
Now, of course, we can’t discuss a movie like Doctor Strange without discussing Dr Strange, and everyone’s favourite Benedict Cumberbatch. While Mr Cumberbatch has played a number of amazing roles, Sherlock, Alan Turing etc. but like anyone in the business he can also be miscast or just cast because of he has a powerful baritone voice like in Star Trek Into the Darkness, however, I am glad to say in Doctor Strange he excels. From the start of the film he plays the ego obsessed surgeon incredibly well, but the character has to go through quite a transformation throughout the film, and if the actor could not pull off that arc the film would have fallen apart. This being said, there were some missed opportunities, it felt like they didn’t use Rachel McAdams to her full potential, and you have the amazing Scott Adkins as just one of the goons, and while his has a good fight scene, he is an amazing physical actor and I wish they had used him more.
While the visual effects were amazing, and the casting and characters were great, one area where the film did not hold up was in the story. Look I’m not saying the story was bad, because it’s not, it’s just well so very safe. For example, Mordo is played fantastically by Chiwetel Ejiofor, however, you will probably be able to chart his entire arc from the start of the film. This happens with a lot of the characters, mostly because we have seen most of these arcs before. [SPOILERS]Also gee you have a character called Jonathan Pangborn played by Benjamin Bratt who might as well had a sign over plastered over his head saying I will be more important than we are letting on [END SPOILERS]. While I really enjoy the Marvel films, and while each of them still finds different tones and areas to occupy, like Ant-Man [See Review] being a heist film, however, over time they have started to feel more and more formulaic. So while there is only one real mention of anything Marvel related until the final act, this still feels like the most Marvel, Marvel film so far. I really feel that Marvel needs to start to take some more risks, and given this was a film that was delving into the spiritual side of things, something the rest of the Marvel franchise has mostly ignored, it felt like a missed opportunity. On this vein when you have Michael Giacchino composing your music, the same Michael Giacchino who composed the stunning Star Trek Beyond [See Review] soundtrack, it is a bit disappointing to see the music just not work as well as it could, once again it felt safe, though there were some moments of greatness, especially with the use of a harpsichord.
Now as I said I did really like Doctor Strange, it is visually stunning and has an amazing cast, and all being said it is still one of the better films I have seen all year so far. Also, let’s be real for a moment Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is still blowing DC’s Justice League out of the water. However, at this point, I would just like them to be a bit more adventurous than what they are, but how many franchises have had this many strong films for this long, not even Bond has pulled that off. In the end, the best comment I can give Doctor Strange is that I am really interested in the characters and universe they have created here, and I can’t wait to see where they go with it in Phase 4.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Scott Derrickson
Written by – Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill
Based on – Doctor Strange by Steve Ditko & Stan Lee
Music by – Michael Giacchino
Starring – Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Scott Adkins, Benjamin Bratt & Tilda Swinton
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG13