FILM REVIEW: Doctor Strange (Marvel Studios, 2016)


by James Brown, contributor.

Doctor Strange is the fourteenth movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, following on from Captain America: Civil War which was basically an Avengers movie with what essentially is an origin story. It introduces both a new hero who will most likely have key role going forward along with introducing the mystical side of this universe and various fantastical elements never seen before.

Doctor Stephen Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch complete with an American accent) is a very talented but also arrogant surgeon. After a severe car crash he is left with damaged hands that modern medicine cannot heal. He goes on a journey where he discovers a secret group of people led by the so called Ancient One (Tilda Swilton) who are trained in the mystic arts. After a crash course where his eyes are opened to previously unfathomable concepts, Strange endeavours to learn and train himself in the hope of healing his hands. Unfortunately for him, he ends up caught in a conflict between the group led by the Ancient One and a group of zealots who hope to harness the power of a dark being.

Benedict Cumberbatch was criticised by some as too much of a safe choice for this role. That said, it’s hard to fault Marvel for picking him. He is able to play this arrogant yet heroic character – a character who is hard to like at first, but who grows on you and manages to make you laugh by showing a lighter side with typical Marvel humour – quite comfortably. Tilda Swilton was also criticised for her casting due to the Ancient One being portrayed as an Asian male in the comics. She manages to dismiss these criticisms with a great performance, delivering exposition that would be cringe-worthy in the wrong hands along with being a genuinely interesting and exciting character. Other characters do not fare so well – not because of their actors who do the best they can, but due to the lack of time in the movie. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Baron Mordo, a follower of the Ancient One who teams up with Strange and Rachel McAdams plays a doctor who has a complicated relationship with Strange.

It has been a criticism of Marvel’s movies that they lack memorable villains, with only Tom Hiddleston’s Loki really being outstanding. Mads Mikkelsen has the unenviable role of playing the villain Kaecilius in this movie, having to compete with the origin story and introduction of the mystic arts among other things. While he is not likely to be at the top of anyone’s list of best villains, he is far from bad. He is an improvement on Christopher Eccleston’s underused Malekith from Thor: The Dark World, and doesn’t quip constantly like James Spader’s Ultron. In fact, it is a rather understated performance which is much-appreciated when compared to the usual camp or over-the-top performances. He also gets a laugh with some deadpan humour.

Doctor Strange Villain Kaecilius is a 'Man of Ideas' || Source: Screen Rant
Doctor Strange Villain Kaecilius is a ‘Man of Ideas’ || Source: Screen Rant

Marvel like to please everybody, which is no bad thing. All the same, it must be said that the movie suffers a bit on account of its role as an origin story, and at times it is predicable following familiar beats from previous movies. You do feel at times that the movie feels the need to explain things and set things up before really getting going. It is a quite short film relative to other films in the genre, clocking in at just under 2 hours, and it’s hard not to wonder if a few more minutes of run-time to flesh out some of the characters would have improved it. Also, while it doesn’t have as much humour as some of the other Marvel movies, not all of what is there lands successfully.

The thing that really makes this movie stand out are the visuals, and if the effects are not acknowledged at award season there is something seriously wrong. From the start of the movie, we get buildings tumbling and swirling over one another, shifting gravity, shattered mirror effects representing doors to other dimensions, a psychedelic trip through the multiverse, a weighty car crash and (of course) the spell-casting itself – which is seriously cool among many other things. Even the fight scenes are exciting and innovative, not dragging on too long.

Mysticism & Mind-Bending Visuals || Source:
Mysticism & Mind-Bending Visuals || Source:

Doctor Strange probably won’t be many people’s favourite superhero movie, but once again Marvel has proven that they take a character that isn’t that well known to the general public and turn their story into a highly-polished movie. It does suffer from having to lay the foundation work for this new side of the MCU whilst also acting as an origin story, but it makes up for this with great acting, stunning effects and set pieces, and has refreshing ideas which invert some of the traditional tropes of movies in this genre.

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