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Doctor Strange Review

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Thirteen movies in, and there seems to be no stopping the cinematic juggernaut that is Marvel Studios and the MCU. But with the pick of popular, well known heroes (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor etc.) pretty much gotten out of the way in the early days, less mainstream characters are the order of the day, with the studio delving ever deeper into the weirder side of the Marvel Universe. And every time they do so, the word ‘gamble’ is thrown about and people envision this as the moment when the Marvel train jumps the tracks. And I will admit, their latest installment in the third phase of the MCU, Doctor Strange, did seem like the most ambitious and most likely to get wrong of their projects to date, residing in a trippy, psychedelic world of magic and mysticism as opposed to the slightly grounded realm of the other movies. But god dammit, they’ve done it again, delivering a solid superhero tale bolstered by some truly imaginative and the out of this world visuals.


Lets get the major problem out of the way first: this is an origin story, bringing with it all the tropes and cliches we’ve seen time and time again. The story goes that Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an arrogant, hot shot neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands following a car accident. His professional and personal life ruined, he travels to Nepal in search of a cure, stumbling upon The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), an ageless mystic who mentors him in the ways mystic arts just in time to battle a world ending threat. You’ve probably read that synopsis and thought to yourself, “I’ve seen this movie before’. And you have, especially in 2008 with Iron Man, as the Stephen Strange here has the air of  Tony Stark about him, right down to the snarky one liners and love of old rock music. And the first act goes through the overly familiar motions as Strange begins his journey from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Thankfully, once the movie commits to the weirdness, and director Scott Derrickson (Sinister) lets fly with the insane visuals, that is when the real fun begins as the story does play with rules somewhat. Credit where credit is due to co-writers Derrickson, his long time collaborator C. Robert Cargill, and John Spaihts for an engaging script that throws a few curve balls, as well as a hefty dose of humour (especially with anything involving the Cloak of Levitation, the most a piece of fabric has had a personality since Aladdin’s magic carpet), while staying on the narrative path set out for them. The argument can be made that you have to introduce the character to audiences before taking it in new directions (what could be the weakest MCU movie, Captain America: The First Avenger, led to the strongest, The Winter Soldier), you can’t help but wonder what could have been if the movie wasn’t bound by the rules of the origin story narrative.


Barring a brief pre-credits battle between The Ancient One and villain Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), Derrickson keeps a lid on the spectacle until all the pieces are in place, blasting our minds apart with a trip through a psychedelic multiverse to begin the movie’s second act. It’s truly something that hasn’t been seen in the genre before, and this visual style helps Doctor Strange stand apart from the crowd. A lot of people pointed at the trailers, shouting ‘That’s just Inception’ as buildings folded in on each other, creating a kaleidoscopic world of glass and concrete. And yes, that particular sequence owes a lot to Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg really. We’re treated to intense martial art combat on the astral plane (introducing us to a style I’ve come to call float-fu), weapons of pure energy conjured out of no where, and a climactic battle which reverses the flow of time amidst the collapse of a city. It goes a long way to making the movie feel fresh and original, especially with a finale that realises Doctor Strange’s full potential as a noble hero who just doesn’t solve everything by punching the bad thing to dust.

The spectacle helps the movie surge forward at a good pace, any lulls in the action serving to deepen some richly drawn characters brought to life by a fantastic cast. Cumberbatch is incredibly likable in the lead role, bringing a sly wit to proceedings and playing the stoic hero perfectly. He has great chemistry with all his supporting players, especially Tilda Swinton who seems to be having a lot more fun than she rightfully should as magical protector of our dimension. Chiwetel Ejifor brings multiple layers to the role of another of her students, Karl Mordo, his blind devotion playing into one the movie’s more interesting characters arcs. Mikkelsen may be saddled with a generic villain role, but he makes it his own, bringing an intensity that pushes him up the ladder of MCU villains. If there is a character that is underserved, it is Rachel McAdams Christine Palmer, Strange’s hospital colleague and love interest. Plenty of time is devoted to her in the first act, fleshing out a pretty sweet romance between the pair, but once the magical energy starts flying across the screen, she feels relegated to the sidelines, all but forgotten by the movie’s finale.


Slightly hampered by a generic origin story, this latest addition to the MCU really comes into it’s own thanks to the spectacular visuals and an expertly chosen cast, introducing new elements brimming with potential to the shared universe. Now that the good doctor has made his introduction, I can’t wait for future instalments to see Stephen get really strange.






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The Movie Bit: Doctor Strange Review
Doctor Strange Review
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