Marvel Studios reached their third phase earlier this year, and they kicked things off with Captain America: Civil War. It left the MCU in a state of disarray, and shattered the Avengers down the middle. However while those events are still intact, Marvel has put their focus on a property that’s a bit…stranger.
[Spoilers ahead for Doctor Strange. If you haven’t seen it yet, you know the drill]
Doctor Strange is Marvel Studios’ fourteenth film, and it was directed by Scott Derrickson. It follows the story of Doctor Stephen Strange: a skilled but arrogant neurosurgeon who, after a near-fatal accident, embarks on a journey to heal himself, only to end up getting sucked into the world of mystics and sorcery.
First thing we want to talk about is the tone and direction of this film. Derrickson is mostly known for directing horror films, such as Sinister, Deliver Us from Evil, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. However, tonally this project is nothing like any of those. We were given the typical Marvel formula: a lighthearted, albeit intense experience. That’s not an issue though, because it’s worked for all of their films in the past, and it worked for this one as well. The thing that made the direction of this film special is that Derrickson doesn’t usually work on projects like this, and the fact that he was able to effortlessly switch up his directorial style is pretty impressive. Although back on the tone, we mentioned earlier that it was lighthearted, and that was expected. Marvel is always big on adding humor to make sure the films aren’t too grim in the end. One problem though, is that a couple of those jokes were kind of forced into certain situations, and they took away from the atmosphere that was set during that particular scene.
Also a quick note on the pacing in this film that needs to be touched on. In the beginning, everything was somewhat bogged down. It felt like the director was kind of rushing to show us Strange as a neurosurgeon and show us his wreck in the first act, so he could hurry and get to the “good stuff,” which is strange as a Sorcerer in training, and eventually a full fledged master of the occult, working towards stopping this mystic war.
The thing that really made this movie great is the Doctor Strange actor himself, Benedict Cumberbatch. I cannot imagine anyone else in this role after seeing the film, because he sold it so well. Strange is a pretty cocky and extremely stubborn guy, but he’s also a hard worker. If he wants to learn something, he studies it down to its very core until he masters it. All of those things are what lead to him being a great surgeon, and also what led to him being a great sorcerer. Something we did miss though was his training towards being a sorcerer. We don’t know how long his training went on, and they don’t really show how he progresses over time (which would usually be done through a montage of some sort), so it’s kind of like they just expect us to believe he humbled himself so easily and learned all of this stuff in like a week or something, which is pretty unlikely.
The supporting characters didn’t exactly break new ground, but they weren’t bad at all either. Rachael McAdams played something of a past romantic interest of Strange, and also a coworker. She did fairly well in this roll, and his scenes with her added a bit of humor here and there. Chiwetel Ejiofor did a great job as Mordo. He’s also sold his roles in major films, and this performance is no different. Benedict Wong played…Wong. And he was good. Everytime him and Strange were on screen together, it was a humorous exchange, and we appreciated that. But come on, he had to have gotten the role because his last name is the same as the character he wanted to play. Moving on though.
Tilda Swinton is a tricky subject. She played the character of The Ancient One, which is a character that taught Strange what he knew of the mystic arts. The big thing is that in the comics, The Ancient One is of Asian decent, and Swinton is obviously not that. That has nothing to do with her performance in the film, because that was good. She’s a fairly talented actress, and my problem is not with her personally, i just wish they stuck with the roots of the comics in that aspect because it was somewhat integral to the story. Finally, Mads Mikkelsen. He played Kaecilius, the main villain in this movie. As always, Mikkelsen did the best he could with this role, but sadly his character fell victim to Marvel’s weak villain problem. He never felt as threatening as he was intended to, and he just fell short in the end. He wasn’t as useless as Zemo in Civil War though, so we applaud them for that.
Now to speak on the best part of the movie: the visuals. If Inception, Harry Potter, and The Matrix had a baby, it would be Doctor Strange. The mind bending effects are reminiscent of scenes that were in Inception, and the death-defying stunts are something that was clearly inspired by The Matrix. What was great about it all was that it look so realistic. As realistic as it can look for a movie, anyway. Watching this in IMAX would actually be a great bonus, because the larger than life effects benefit from the enhanced viewing experience. We have to say though, the magic and the fight sequences were sadly the weakest part of the effects. They were far from terrible, but obviously Derrickson kind of struggled to capture those parts to their fullest.
In the end, we have to say Doctor Strange was something familiar from Marvel, while also being completely different than anything we’ve seen from them before. They’ve teased magic within the MCU before, but this is our first time being fully exposed to it in a film, and it was a treat. Cumberbatch’s ability to sell his character so well carried this movie more than anything. The visuals were outstanding, and Derrickson’s direction was mostly great. This wasn’t an amazing movie, but it was nowhere near terrible either. We had fun with this one, and we’re looking forward to seeing more of the Sorcerer Supreme in the mystical side of the MCU.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10
Doctor Strange is now playing in Theaters.