Before 2012’s Avengers, many wondered how the hell Marvel would succesfully mix the grounded sci-fi world of Iron Man with the more (toned down) fantastical elements of Thor. Looking back, the fact that this was a worry is pretty silly. But now comes Doctor Strange, Marvel’s weirdest, most ambitious film to date. Unlike Marvel’s approach with the original Thor, Doctor Strange makes no apologies for its weirdness, diving head first into the mystical, multi-dimensional insanity that has come to define the character.
On one hand, Doctor Strange shares many similarities with the original Iron Man. The two films shares similar arcs for their leading heroes, which in turn helps give Doctor Strange the strongest character arc Marvel has delivered in a single film since the original Iron Man.
Stephen Strange starts the film as a narcissitic ass hole, whose soul reason for becoming a world renowned neurosurgeon was personal fame and glory. After a horrific accident that renders his hands useless, Strange travels to Nepal in search of a more unconventional means of healing. There he meets the Ancient One, who promises him the use of his hands back through the use mystical powers and alternate dimension hopping.
Doctor Strange adheres to the typical origin story structure, with the majority of the film focusing on Strange learning and training his powers, only becoming a fully fledged superhero in the final act. What helps make Doctor Strange feel fresh is the strong personal arc of Strange, transforming from an arrogant, self absorbed man to ome willing to subject themselves to an eternity of suffering to protect humanity. This is made all the more compelling by the pitch perfect performance delivered by Benedict Cumberbatch. Like Chris Evans as Captain America and Robert Downey Jr. As Iron Man, Cuddlebunch becomes synonymous with Strange, delivering a performance that feels ripped straight from classic comic books. Marvel has done a fantastic job casting their leading heroes, and I cannot wait to see Strange interact with the rest of the Avengers.
The rest of the supporting cast are equally as solid as well. Most notably is Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One, delivering a truly other wordly and wise performance. She was the standout character in the film, absolutely stealing the show whenever she was on-screen. Chiwetel Ejiofor is awesome as the honor bound, if hot-headed Karl Mordo, who gets his own compelling character arc over the course of the film. I’m looking forward to see where they take his character in future appearances.
Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer is enjoyable yet underused. She has fantastic chemistry with Curdlebrunch and helps aid in Strange’s character transformation. I just wish there was more depth to get character. When compared to other Marvel love interests, she’s much more in line with a Pepper Potts than a Jane Foster.
Madds Mikkelsen works with what he has in his portrayal of the villain Kaecilius, but once again Marvel drops the ball in the antagonist department. While not near as appalling as The Dark World’s Malekith, Kaecilius is fairly ineffective as a villain, acting as more of a plot device than an actual character. So much so that by the climax of the film, Kaecilius becomes more of a footnote than an actual threat.
Speaking of the climax, the one in Doctor Strange is excellent. The film cleverly subverts the genocidal destruction porn that has come to define so many other superhero films recently, opting for a smaller and more intellectual climax. It won’t gel well with everybody, but I loved it.
That isn’t to say Doctor Strange is lacking in the action and visual departmenr, quite the contrary. The action in Doctor Strange is some of the best that Marvel has put out, with its chaotic spells, magical weapons, and minding bending set pieces electrifying the screen. And that’s not counting all the rainbow-colored, alternate dimension-hopping fuckery that occurs over the course of the film, which is pure visual eye candy. These sequences are extremely trippy, harkening back to the classic art work of Jack Kirby. Doctor Strange fans, this is the adaptation you’ve been waiting for.
While Doctor Strange certainly doesn’t reinvent the superhero wheel, it manages to be interesting and unique in a climate that tires of superhero origin stories. Thanks to a strong script from writers Jon Spaights and C. Robert Cargill and stellar and inventive directing from Scott Derrickson, Doctor Strange manages to rise above the typical origin film, marking another solid entry in the Marvel saga.