From the studio that won over audiences with Iron Man, Captain America and Guardians of the Galaxy, comes the newest entry into the shared universe, Doctor Strange. This latest film explores the mystical corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe where we discover that it’s not only the Avengers who have been protecting this world, but other teams have been created to take out unforeseen threats on alternate planes of existence that threaten the lives of everyday citizens in the universe. To varying degrees, prominent horror director, Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) is able to show us just how massive that plane of reality really is, but it doesn’t always work.
The screenplay written by Derrickson, Jon Spaihts, and C. Robert Cargill, treats the mastery of mystic arts similar to that of martial arts. In both respects, the body is merely an empty vessel until the power of the mind and spirit are harnessed and channeled through it. It’s a concept that on paper makes a lot of sense, but given the numerous storylines this film has to juggle, it doesn’t all flow within it’s screen time.
When we meet Doctor Strange, he is a self absorbed neurosurgeon with a chip on his shoulder, not unlike how we met Tony Stark, but here the story is told entirely linear. After a car wreck, brought about by his own narcissism, his hands are completely fractured and broken. It’s this event that puts Strange on his journey to learn the ways of the Ancient One and become the Sorcerer Supreme. What the linear story telling does is makes his journey to becoming a hero, is that it becomes overly predictable and shines a light on the plot holes where as a non-linear story, like the first Iron Man film would have been more engaging for the audience.
Benedict Cumberbatch embodies the character of Doctor Strange as if he was born to play the role. His english accent and charisma in both the start through the climax are pitch perfect. It’s a performance that you, as a viewer latch onto which was very needed in a film about magic and supernatural threats. We will see Cumberbatch’s Strange for a long time within the MCU because of this and maybe he’ll be the answer to Robert Downey Jr, leaving the role of Iron Man in the coming years.
In the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Rachel McAdams character Christine Palmer and learn that her and the good Doctor used to date and she has moved on. However, the story pulls her back in when they need her to stitch up the Doctor’s wounds or provide levity in an otherwise straight forward character drama that just so happens to include magic. It’s a amalgam character of a few different characters the comics and it doesn’t work as well as they would have liked. McAdams did what she could with what she was given, unfortunately, it wasn’t more.
A hero is nothing without a villain and Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius was not up for that challenge. Mads does a decent job with the occult aspect in the use of dark magic, but his character is sorely one note and every time he appears on screen you beg for the script to give him more to do. That is to only comment on his dialogue scenes; the action with him is by far more entertaining a spectacle to behold.
On his journey, he is met by Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who escorts him to Kamar-Taj where he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Benedict plays off these characters well as he is unaccustomed to their teachings and it adds to the incredible display of visual effects that Doctor Strange is confronted with on his journey through the astral plane. You’ve seen a little of this already in the promotional content, but on the big screen it’s a sight worth seeing especially in 3D.
During his time at Kamar-Taj, where the Ancient One and her zealots live, he is trained in the ways of the mystic arts using his mind and forgetting what he knows about reality. It’s a true representation of how we learn in life and exploration on how to become better people. These skills are supposed to help his body mend his hands, but their effects go past that and grant the character powers beyond what anyone could imagine. Conjuring up weapons, shields and portals are all part of the Ancient Ones plans to give Doctor Strange a new path in life beyond just being a surgeon. She sees a good in him and that is what projects him into becoming a fighter for good in the universe and what will ultimately get him a position on the Avengers.
We also meet a few side characters who are fun, but they don’t do much except aid the hero with knowledge or quips that make you laugh for a second. Wong portrayed by Benedict Wong is fine in his role, but he’s still a trained librarian who doesn’t get much to do besides explain what mystical relics are. One of these relics includes a point of levity in the film through it’s comedic timing. In the vain of Carpet from Aladdin we are given the Cloak of Levitation which chooses Doctor Strange as his companion and aides him during his fights. At times the comedic timing is off with this object and others it feels like a Disney-fication of a piece of wardrobe worn by Doctor Strange in the comics. Another relic Strange uses is the Eye of Agamotto which has power over the space time continuum. This device plays a big part in the final act and unfortunately they never provide a sense of vulnerability associated with it. It’s another missed opportunity.
Overall, Marvel Studio’s Doctor Strange is a missed opportunity to explore the cosmos in new, unseen ways and besides a few cgi heavy moments, we don’t get anything new. Doctor Strange may not be a familiar character with you, but his story will be overly familiar while you’re watching it. While the action is inventive and mind bending, it ultimately doesn’t show you things you haven’t seen before. If you took the Chateau fight from the Matrix Reloaded and mixed it with the hallway fight scene in Inception, you’d get a majority of the fighting in Doctor Strange. Benedict Cumberbatch does a remarkable job portraying a egotistical surgeon and humble sorcerer, but overall he’s the only thing that will leave a lasting impression.