Another year, another Marvel movie.
Thankfully, it turns out that the fairly unknown Doctor Strange is actually rather good. Sure, if you analyse it from a holier-than-thou perspective, then it fails to deliver on several accounts – particularly when it comes to having an engaging villain. If, however, you allow yourself to be sucked in to the mystic and enthralling world that Benedict Cumberbatch’s titular Dr. Strange creates, then you’ll have a bloody good time.
The film begins by introducing us to Doctor Stephen Strange; an iconic and revered neurosurgeon whose fame is only matched by his prowess with medical instruments. Relatively early on, he is involved in a near-fatal car crash, and loses control of the nerves in his hands. Effectively rendered useless in his field, the Doctor travels the world in search of something – or somebody – that can fix his hands and return him to his former glory. On his travels, he ends up in Nepal, where he meets a clan of mystic sorcerers who help him realise his true powers, and make him a threat to the twisted and demonic forces that threaten to destroy our very existence.
Sounds pretty standard for an origin story – doesn’t it? Well, in all fairness, this is a pretty standard Marvel affair: hero kicked down, hero taught by mysterious mentor, hero overcomes himself and his demons. Think Iron Man but with more magic, and you’re halfway there. The thing is, though, Doctor Strange takes this tried formula and makes it really entertaining. Personally, I almost fell-off the Marvel hype train around the time of Ant-Man. I was tired of seeing the same old story rehashed until it becomes so predictable than anybody with a keyboard could replicate it. With Doctor Strange, however, you’ve got this predictable story coupled with some truly outstanding visuals, and oodles of charisma.
Benedict Cumberbatch is definitely going to be a big hitter in upcoming Marvel movies; this much is true. He carries the film almost single-handedly, and is brimming with a certain charm that makes his arrogant persona more than tolerable. His mentor, The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), is equally interesting. Their chemistry when they first meet feels reminiscent of many Marvel movies that have came before, but that doesn’t diminish how enjoyable it is to watch. Put simply: Stephen Strange is, for all intents and purposes, the new Tony Stark.
But as I was saying: the nebulous imagery throughout the movie is nothing short of stunning. The easiest comparison to make would be to Nolan’s ‘Inception’, but even that doesn’t give Doctor Strange the credit it deserves. Buildings twist and multiply like they’re straight from an M.C. Escher painting, and entire galaxies grow and contort around themselves. It’s truly a sight to behold, and probably justifies the price of admission on its own. There’s not a single moment when the CGI is anything but excellent, and the film deserves massive props for that.
Where things begin to stumble are with Doctor Strange’s villain (or villains, if you’d rather). The main antagonist for most of the film is a rogue sorcerer by the name of Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen); a dark and powerful figure who rivals even The Ancient One in terms of ability. Like with most Marvel entries, Kaecilius is nothing more than a temporary adversary standing before an even greater threat, which makes him feel like a glorified minion. The greater threat is certainly imposing in the sense that he could wipe out the entire Earth, but he’s introduced so late into the movie that his impact almost feels like an afterthought.
When it comes down to it, it’s easy to forgive Doctor Strange for its shortcomings of story when you take into account how thrilling it is to sit through. You feel empathetic towards the Doctor and his struggles with ego, despite his early arrogance being his only real trait. You sense the impending doom that could very well occur if these characters don’t fulfil their duties, and protect the world from enemies we couldn’t even begin to fathom. And, perhaps most importantly, you’ll come to appreciate a world in which the Avengers exist, but one in that they’re not the main focus.