Director: Scott Dickenson
Cast: Benedict Comberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Rachael McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt
Genre: Fantasy, Action, Adventure, Sci-fi
Released: 27 October 2016
Discovering new paths, breaking the rules and learning to open your eyes are both what Doctor Strange is all about and what Marvel has continued do so effortlessly well; however, this is not the first time Doctor Strange has been made into a movie. In 1978, unsuccessfully a TV movie was released in hopes of launching Doctor Strange into a TV series. The combination of the limited technology and landscape of television at that moment did not mesh well with the kind of mystic world Doctor Strange deals with. Decades later, both technology and Marvel has come a long way and with the success of unfamiliar characters such as those in guardians of the galaxy. It seems as good as a time to step over the threshold into strange mind-bending world of the mystic arts with aptly named Stephen Strange.
Dr Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a gifted neurosurgeon whose level of talent is only matched by his arrogance. On the way to an event Strange is involved a car accident which shatters his world. Exploring all avenues to restore what he has lost, it leads him to the temple of Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu and to its leader the mysterious Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). With the help of the Ancient one and colleagues Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong) they broadened Strange’s mind to everything the mystic arts. They are confronted by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his Zealots, whom are ready to break the fabrics of reality for a dark and shadowy entity known as Dormammu (Cumberbatch pulling double duties by voicing the character). Watch as this superhero created with the power of studying, races against time to save the world from the approaching darkness.
The first non-sequel film of Marvel’s Phase 3, Doctor Strange delves into new territory in many ways, in particularly the visual style. With the comics having taken inspiration from eastern mysticism and psychedelia, Scott Dickenson weaves those two areas well throughout with the visuals effects used in the right way to show how the sorcerers power works as well as the look of different dimensions such as the mirror and dark dimensions. In one particular sequence, Kaecilius uses his power to turn the city in on itself in different ways like a kaleidoscope, in order to catch Strange and Mordo. This visual use of landscape manipulation (which makes the Inception dream state seem like Childs play) throughout the film adds a level of tension and urgency to the scenes.
As the title character, Cumberbatch balances skilfully Strange’s emotional journey from egotistical neurosurgeon to selfless defender of Earth’s magical realm. Even at Strange’s lowest point with his own self-pity and arrogance meter turned up to 11, Cumberbatch does well to not to push it to the point where you stop rooting for him still allowing room for a shade of vulnerability to come through so the audience isn’t lost. The rest of the cast fill in nicely around Cumberbatch neither overshadowing nor feeling ill cast. The role of the ancient one portrayed traditionally as an Asian character in the comics, Dickenson decided to move away from the stereotype of the eastern mentor to the western man to instead gender swap the part. It is a clever way to temper down the mostly testosteroned cast, whilst bringing into the Marvel Cinematic universe another powerful female hero. There aren’t too many powerful female characters in the MCU, so this casting proves a welcome change into a more forward thinking direction. The choice of casting the ethereal Swinton presents the Ancient one as a calming Yoda like mentor in contrast to Strange’s headstrong egotistical personality. The other major female role is also used differently as well with Rachael McAdams’ character Christine Palmer used less like a straight up romantic interest and more like a moral compass for Strange in his old life and his new one.
Being an origin story, Docotor Strange doesn’t escape the typical hero journey tropes. What it does deliver though is a seemingly enjoyable ride into the mystic realms, filled with psychedelic visuals, smooth storytelling and a sprinkle of typical marvel humour. If Marvel can continue to keep nailing risks like this, the best is yet to come.