Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelson, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong
Running Time: 115 minutes
As the fourteenth feature film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe DOCTOR STRANGE could have so easily fallen victim to the regular criticism of being a bit to similar to other entries. After all this is the seventh origin story we have been presented. While it would be ignorant to ignore some of the more formulaic story telling present in DOCTOR STRANGE, it does far more to distinguish itself among it’s predecessors.
Speaking of origin stories though, DOCTOR STRANGE does seem to breeze through his, however it did not feel rushed. The character himself is not to dissimilar to one or two other Marvel heroes, and therefor his narrative arc in becoming a hero is one we have seen before, so it did not feel amiss that it didn’t linger on moments for too long. The film makes clear all the information we need to understand the heroes journey without making it a tiresome chore. This presentation does however make way for one of the films most interesting aspects, magic.
Beyond the inception-like moments shown in all of the trailers, the marketing for the film drastically under sells how visually impressive the magic really is. The character of Doctor Strange is certainly distanced from the normal world of the MCU and the special effects do everything they can to remind you of this. Some of the CG character models during certain scenes do stand out but beyond that the film is incredibly stunning to watch. It may be difficult to fully understand what exactly is going on sometimes but it doesn’t matter, you’re not meant to. This magical world is presented to us through Stephen Strange’s eyes and therefor it is just as over whelming for us as it is for the sorcerer in training.
Strange himself is a likable character but initially flawed with an over inflated ego, a man too smart for his own good, not unlike the character of Tony Stark. A role perfectly played by Robert Downey Jr, who brought a similar energy to well known detective Sherlock Holmes, who would you believe it is also played by Benedict Cumberbatch, what a coincidence. Well this obviously isn’t a coincidence, as Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch proved to the world that he can believably play an incredibly intelligent man who thinks himself to be above others, something he certainly carries over to Stephen Strange. The similarities to Tony Stark are obviously intentional as well, not only because it’s true to the source material, but as Robert Downey Jr is slowly stepping away from the MCU I believe they’re lining Cumberbatch up to fill the position as Doctor Strange.
As for the supporting cast there are some impressive new additions to the MCU. Regardless of your opinion of Tilda Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One, she does a good job with the role. She plays the part with authority and charm that makes for a likable mentor figure for Strange. Both Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo and Benedict Wong as Wong work brilliantly as teachers and allies, with the latter providing some of the films more memorable comic relief. It would have been nice to have one or two more scenes with Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer but what we do get from her are emotional and entertaining. Possibly the biggest let down with the casting is Mads Mikkelson as the villainous Kaecilius, not that he plays the part badly, he’s a phenomenally talented actor, seemingly made for menacing characters. Unfortunately though Kaecilius does join the long list of forgettable Marvel villains.
While I don’t necessarily think the film ran too short I do wish it had gone on a little longer. It’s not as if it was a rushed third act but I found myself having so much fun with it that it was a little disappointing when it was over. I suppose with the use of more abstract scenes and imagery they may have been concerned that they might lose audience interest if they were to drag it out, but it does certainly leave you wanting more. A lot of people considered GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and ANT-MAN to be Marvel’s biggest risks, but honestly I think DOCTOR STRANGE is just as much, if not more of a risk. It is weird but leans just enough on the side of mainstream to not scare off your average audience member, I would love to see how far they can go with it if given a bit more freedom.
DOCTOR STRANGE could have turned out much worse depending on how they played it. If they were too concerned to commit to the magic, choosing to explain it as science like in THOR, or simply visually underplaying it, the film could have turned out to be just another superhero origin story. Instead it resulted in being a visually stunning trip into the world of magic within the MCU, with interesting special effects and exciting action sequences. I do worry that as he becomes more involved with the larger universe his powers, and in turn the magic, will become down played and less exciting, but that is yet to be seen. As for this however, I believe DOCTOR STRANGE was one of Marvel’s biggest gambles and has most definitely payed off.
DOCTOR STRANGE is out in UK cinemas now and arrives November 4th in the US.