Doctor Strange: Film Review
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Eijofor, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen
Director: Scott Derrickson
Back in 1963, Doctor Strange joined the Marvel Universe thanks to Steve Ditko - and magic came into the world of the MCU as well as mysticism.
Focussing on arrogant and talented neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), the story of this hero's origin is deeply rooted in tragedy after a moment of texting and using his phone causes an almost fatal accident.
Crippled by the fact he will never be able to use his hands again due to massive nerve damage, Strange heads to Kathmandu in search of a miracle. But he ends up in the sights of the Ancient One (a bald-bonced Tilda Swinton who brings gravitas and a down to earth approach to a lot of the mystical rubbish her character spouts) and slap-bang in the middle of a fight to stop the Dark Dimension taking over....
Marvel's Doctor Strange is a curious beast; a sort of "You're a Wizard now, Sherlock" Harry Potter shenanigans with some po-faced dialogue that wouldn't be out of place on a Hallmark Third Eye greeting card range (sample - Death is What Gives Life Meaning).
Throw in some time travel and some thinly sketched astral plane silliness and the final mix is a curious mish-mash that tonally gets some things right and some others wildly all over the place.
It's hard to care about the arrogant Strange, a man so contemptuously cold on his "Physician Heal Thyself" journey that you barely see what Rachel McAdams' ER doctor ever saw in him in the first place.
Don't even get me started on how badly written and under-used her Christine Palmer is - a real shock for Marvel's relatively strong female leads and co-leads. She simply shows up as a cypher to showcase Strange's brilliance rather than feel like a fully formed character.
Coupled with some even worse written bad guys, led by Mads Mikkelsen's fish-scaled emo-eyed leader who's hell-bent on bringing the Dark Dimension to all of us, the script's wildly caught up in its paper thin ethos and preferring to concentrate on some eye-popping visuals to keep you entertained during the 2 hour run time.
In many ways, it feels like character's really taken a back seat in this Marvel outing which is a surprise. (Even though Swinton is the best part of the film, a mysterious Obi Wan-like mentor who never ascends into absurdity but transcends the material with grace and distinct presence).
A lot of the time, mysticism masquerades under the auspices of providing character development; it's almost as if you are supposed to care for these characters because they say sage and wise things. It's not a road travelled or an emotional journey experienced; a lot of it is mumbo-jumbo hokum to paper over the growing narrative cracks as those involved accept the call.
Grating and irritating is the lack of consistency over the physics and time travel, as well as the magic involved.
Throwing everything under the mantle of "it's magic" just doesn't cut it; even the world of Harry Potter had rules and restrictions.
Granted, the eye candy on offer is incredible (we're not talking Benedict Cumberbatch here) as Derrickson uses Inception-style folding over and bending of city scenes to fire up some of the more magical sequences; buildings rotate and the kaleidoscopic images and stereo-scoping feel like a downtown planner's nightmarish dream. Equally, a trippy third eye opening psychedelic sequence is astonishing in its scope and visual execution, a sort of purple hazed LSD trip on speed.
But, for all intents and purposes, Doctor Strange is a very ordinary, very formulaic origin story that leans on its visuals to help disguise this fact, and becomes strangely reliant on a lot of self-aware / meta comedy in among all the po-faced mysticism to try and help move things along.
There's a nice twist on the rote formulaic CGI destruction of the world that's become so commonplace in Marvel Cinematic Universe films, but there's plenty here in this rather typical yin and yang tale that doesn't quite feel like it fires on all cylinders and it certainly doesn't leave the MCU feeling like a vast space much like Guardians of the Galaxy did.
While Marvel's confidence in the weirder elements of the MCU has taken time to come out and manifest itself in Doctor Strange, there is a feeling that this multiverse tale feels very ordinary. As the tale of the Benedictine Monk plays out, there's a strong sense of apathy sweeping over proceedings, where the strangeness of what was being embraced could have helped it soar.
In a weird way, Doctor Strange, this superhero tale is anything but super-heroic; it lacks the emotional pull of other Marvel films and sacrifices depth for sly throwaway one-liners that become a crutch as the movie goes on and the endless set up for further franchises continues.
It's not a bad Marvel film by any stretch of the imagination, but given these films have held themselves up to such strong accord and have become more enriching as they go on, the 14th Marvel film feels like it would have fitted in a lot earlier in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase 1 rather than being trotted out this late on.