Doctor Strange (2016)
Director: Scott Derrickson
Writer(s): Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams
Doctor Strange is Marvel doing what it does best, with the inventiveness, sentiment and CGI mastery turned up to 11.
Doctor Strange plays to Marvel’s strengths, and goes back what Marvel has always been good at: origin stories. Think Thor (2011), think Iron Man (2008) and think Spiderman (2002*). Doctor Strange feels like these great origin stories, not burnt-out or uninspired, but fresh and imaginative and excited to show off something new. It’s focussed and not convoluted, and has just enough references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to tie it to the franchise, but manages to keep its distance and avoid becoming more of the same.
Fans of Thor will enjoy this film; it takes a supernatural and spiritual approach to the superhero genre, managing to be convincing and realistic while only drawing on a few seemingly unavoidable clichés associated with the fantasy genre (an enemy from ‘The Dark Dimension’ being the main culprit). Much like Thor, there is a coupling of otherworldly magic and genuine human struggle and emotion, which is blended seamlessly and elegantly, creating a fascinating and gripping film.
The smoking gun of this Marvel instalment is the incredible special effects. They are simply superb, both technically and imaginatively, but they are also stylish and original in way that we haven’t really seen from Marvel before, giving the film a refreshing and interesting feel. Whereas the ‘techno-porn” from the Iron Man films is becoming a bit dry, the look and particularly the sound of the magic and weaponry used throughout Doctor Strange is new and exciting. The wider visual effects are similarly inventive but also mind-blowingly intricate and labyrinthine, creating a trippy geometric landscape on which the characters can run, chase, fight and fall over quite a bit. All this stops just short of becoming too overwhelming for the viewer to bear, leaving them satisfied but not exhausted.
The character development does seem to have taken a backseat to the visual elements of this film, but what the cast do bring to the table, they bring in spades. Other than Cumberbatch’s questionable American accent falling awkwardly on British ears his performance is fantastic, as are those from Ejiofor, Mikkelsen and Swinton. Ejiofor fills his role perfectly, manifesting as an immovable pillar of virtue, although his character’s progression is, while believable, perhaps a little rushed. Mikkelsen is in top form as a brilliant, albeit shallow, villain, while Swinton’s cryptically named ‘The Ancient One’ is as wise and as composed as all good sages should be.
But the most endearing element of this film is its ‘Aesop’s Fable-esque’ message. It has a genuine lesson to it which a lot of Marvel films have been lacking in the midst of explosions and talking robots. Within a film which takes a ‘more-is-more’ approach to its visuals, the ’less-is-more’ approach to its philosophy is a perfect contrast. It allows watchers to connect and identify with the protagonist, while also serving to ground and not overcomplicate a film which already flirts dangerously with becoming perplexing.
In all, Derrickson and his team have done a fantastic job of injecting some originality and heart into a currently sprawling and perhaps weary franchise. No Marvel film has taken such a large step towards the fantasy genre since Thor (2011), and what those involved with Doctor Strange have created is a stunning effort.
In one line: Both fresh and inventive, Doctor Strange is a breathtaking but measured visual masterpiece, although perhaps at the expense of its characters.
*Spiderman came out in 2002??!! What the f**k?!