Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton
Run Time: 115 mins
‘Doctor Strange’ is the second of two offerings this year in the ever-expanding yet lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is an origin story of the titular character who learns the mystic arts in Kamar-Taj in Nepal under the tutelage of the Ancient One after a car accident that destroys the use of his hand and ends his career as an esteemed neurosurgeon. The film is directed by horror director Scott Derrickson who I really like (other than 2009’s abysmal remake, ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’) and he has repeatedly stated how much of a fan he is of the material. His horror films have generally received a pretty mixed reception (‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’ and ‘Deliver Us From Evil’) but ‘Sinister’ received good reviews and is one of the best horror films of the decade so far. Along with a strong director, the film also has perhaps one of the best casts assembled for a comic-book film ever with Benedict Cumberbatch playing the titular character and being supported by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen and Tilda Swinton. The film would seem like it should be in pretty safe hands with the circumstances considered and especially as this is the last of six comic book offerings this year, it would be nice if the genre went out on a bang for this year.
‘Doctor Strange’ is a delight from start to finish – it is thoroughly entertaining, extremely well-paced and has perhaps the best visual effects that I have seen in a film for a while. The film is bolstered by its excellent cast who are all wonderful and Scott Derrickson is a clear fit for the material – you can really tell the passion that has gone into this film behind the camera. It’s a lot more stripped down than this Summer’s ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ which was effectively an ‘Avengers 2.5’ team-up and by having less characters to juggle around, it really means the film can get a chance to breathe and develop these characters.
The performances are what really drive the film along and Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular character is wonderful, he’s very arrogant and snarky and will make for a great match when he hopefully meets Robert Downey Jr’s ‘Iron Man’ in the upcoming two-part ‘Avengers: Infinity War’. Tilda Swinton is very nuanced as the Ancient One, Doctor Strange’s mentor and Chiwetel Ejiofor makes for a conflicted Baron Mordor who we will hopefully see be further developed in future films. Rachel McAdams’ love interest is a little underdeveloped but she’s a good match for the material and Benedict Wong handles a lot of the comic relief as Wong who protects many of the relics housed in Kamar-Taj. Mads Mikkelsen makes for a strong villain who is a good match to Strange but it’s a bit of a shame that he isn’t in the film a little more to flesh out his character especially as Mikkelsen being the very talented actor that he is. Michael Stuhlbarg and Benjamin Bratt are both good here too but their roles are very small unfortunately.
The narrative, although a little familiar, works as we are introduced to this world and these characters and although a lot of superhero films often result in an action-packed and derivative third act, ‘Doctor Strange’ has a lot of fun in its action sequences and the film is never a chore to watch. It’s paced pretty much perfectly, slightly under the 2 hour mark and although it would be nice if we had a few more scenes with Mikkelsen, Stuhlbarg and Bratt as mentioned to fully flesh out their characters, the film feels far less than its run time as it is just so entertaining. Derrickson is able to balance the real world and magic very well and this film could have very easily gone straight over the heads of most audiences if he had chosen a story to do with more of the wackier elements of this comic book hero, it’s a pretty safe story that does manage to deviate so it never feels overly familiar although it can’t quite shake off the origin story cliche as it does fall into a few traps here and there.
The visuals in this film are absolutely stunning and the best visuals ever in a Marvel Cinematic Universe film. There have been a lot of complaints that the film’s visual aesthetic mirrors that of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’ which I would say does bear a couple of similarities in a few sequences but this is a completely different film and there are many scenes where the characters explore different dimensions and worlds that have its own signature aesthetic. This is a film to definitely see in IMAX 3D if possible.
Michael Giacchino’s score is also one of the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far and crafts a very memorable theme for the characters and is equally as wacky and distant as the material – only Giacchino would think to use a harpsichord! The cinematography by Ben Davis is very assured and the film looks fantastic – this is a career-best for him thus far.
Overall, ‘Doctor Strange’ is a great success that is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish and is one of the best entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The cast are wonderful here and Derrickson’s direction is very assured My only concern with the film is that going forward, the ability to incorporate this new world of magic and mysticism into the other Marvel Cinematic Universe franchises could be a difficult one to pull off. It’s already been confirmed that Benedict Cumberbatch will reprise the role of Doctor Strange in the upcoming two-part ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ so here’s hoping he can seamlessly mesh in with the current line-up of superheroes that inhibit this world. For now though, Derrickson has done a very good job here and it will be interesting to see where this world gets taken in a sequel now that the origin story has happened.