Given Marvel’s dominance at the box office for what seems like forever, it’s hard to imagine that any of their films even come with risks any more – however, Doctor Strange is in many ways an entirely different beast. The Marvel universe is taking a turn to the mystical, and the movie is undoubtedly trippier than any of their previous offerings. Take away the glossy visuals, though, and it is much the same – a superhero origin story with a bland villain. It differs in one more important way – before, Marvel films were fun and decent watches. Doctor Strange is decidedly average.
Dr Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a successful but arrogant neurosurgeon, whose life changes forever after a car accident robs him of the use of his hands, his job and his reason for living. Traditional medicine fails him, and his search for healing takes him to a mysterious enclave in Nepal – there, he learns that the enclave is at the front line of a battle against unseen dark forces bent on destroying reality. Under the training of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), Strange begins to learn to command magic. However, he is soon forced to choose between his life of fame and fortune or to leave it all behind and defend the world as the most powerful sorcerer in existence.
Excitement at this film was running high with some of the names added to the cast, but almost every single one is underserved by the film. As is customary for a Marvel villain, Mads Mikkelsen is underdeveloped and fails to ever really seem a threat. Still, if Marvel aren’t that good with villains, Mikkelsen should count himself lucky he’s not a female character. Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One does the job, although she will continue to face controversy for white-washing, and Rachel McAdams suffers royally – an actress with her talent deserves a better role than this, where she is given absolutely nothing to do. It all pails in comparison to the leading man, though.
I’m not a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch – I’ve always found his acting to be wooden and unconvincing, and it is the same here. He imbues Strange with a cocksure nature and such supreme arrogance, but fails to make him likeable, thereby making him a difficult character to root for. Coupled with the fact that he is the source of most of the jokes, all of which fall flat, and he makes for an unusually weak leading character. Sure, he looks the part, but that is about it.
In many ways, that is the story of Doctor Strange – its strength is in its visuals, and it truly excels there. Often, superhero movies are just packed with CGI, but this film really justifies it – there is a certain magic to it. The fight scenes feel necessary to the story and incorporate the magic in a way that feels seamless, allowing spectacular geometric magic to fill the screen (sensibly, the movie starts with just such a scene). The finale, although comforting to Marvel’s typical ‘light in the sky denoting the end of the world’ style, does so with a time-bending scene that is as inventive as anything the studio has put out.
The visuals are incredible but, when you look past them, there is very little to Doctor Strange – it follows much the same structure as many superhero films, skipping out on many of the details needed to make some of its more unusual elements make any sense. A lack of any strong characters and a focus on style over substance make Doctor Strange an underwhelming and, quite frankly, forgettable movie.
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Stephen Strange), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo), Rachel McAdams (Christine Palmer), Benedict Wong (Wong), Mads Mikkelsen (Kaecilius), Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One)
Running Time: 115 Mins