Film Review: ‘Doctor Strange’ (spoiler free)

Mighty Marvel casts its spell…

Starring:  Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen.

Directed by:  Scott Derrickson / Written by:  Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill / 115 minutes

What’s it about?

His hands mangled in a car crash, brilliant neurosurgeon Stephen Strange’s career is seemingly over.  Exhausting all surgical efforts to repair his injuries, Strange travels to a place called Kamar-Taj where an encounter with a mysterious figure sees him thrust into the world of the mystic arts…

In review

With the runaway successes of Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, Marvel Studios have proved adept at bringing lesser and more obscure comic book properties to the big screen and in a manner that manages to please fans and regular audiences alike.  Doctor Strange would immediately seem a far trickier and more daring gamble than those previous hits but for the most part, Marvel Studios succeed once more.

Based on the Marvel comic books by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the journey of neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange from arrogance to fall from grace and eventual redemption may be a little clichéd but via the film’s exploration of magical abilities and mystic realms there lies another dimension to the storytelling that opens up the possibilities for future Marvel Studios productions.  It’s fair to say in that sense that this makes the “Sorcerer Supreme” an important character as the looming apex of Avengers: Infinity War approaches.

In the role of Stephen Strange, Benedict Cumberbatch makes for a strong lead and although for some it may take a little time to adjust to his American accent, the Sherlock and Star Trek Into Darkness star laps up the material handed to him in a performance that’s impassioned, witty and by the end of it all, noble.  Seemingly the requisite love interest, Rachel McAdams is somewhat underserved as Christine Palmer although she does share some vital scenes with Cumberbatch that helps the audience become more invested in the character and his arc throughout this origin story.

Tilda Swinton is wise and otherworldly as the enigmatic Ancient One and co-stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong fit nicely into the mix as fellow sorcerers Mordo and Wong respectively.  As the main antagonist, Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius – a former pupil seeking to unlock the secrets of dark magic –  has some great moments, rising to the challenge of being pitted against the talents of Cumberbatch and Swinton but is ultimately less memorable than Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull (Captain America: The First Avenger) or James Spader’s Ultron (Avengers: Age of Ultron).

There’s a slight over reliance on humour at times, parts of it are welcome relief but some moments feel forced, included merely for the sake of it and arguably undermine several key scenes that would have benefitted from a more dramatic tone.  Where Doctor Strange really excels is via its jaw-dropping, kaleidoscopic visuals as director Scott Derrickson intertwines influences of Escher with the cinematic awe of Inception and the mesmerising psychedelia of 2001: A Space Odyssey that bring the trippy imaginings of Messrs. Lee and Ditko breathtakingly to life.  The extra expense of an IMAX 3D ticket is fully warranted for the fullest possible immersion in the mind-bending spectacle of folding cityscapes and unravelling astral planes.

Ultimately it’s the visual elements that gloss over the overall flaws in the tone and narrative of Doctor Strange but there’s no denying the charm of Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance and the potential of further adventures of Marvel’s Master of the Mystic Arts.

The bottom line:  Despite some formulaic elements and jarring moments of silliness, Doctor Strange is a reliably entertaining and visually stunning addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Doctor Strange is screening in UK cinemas now and opens in the US and worldwide from 4th November.

Benedict Cumberbatch confidently leads Marvel Studios' 'Doctor Strange'.

Benedict Cumberbatch confidently leads Marvel Studios’ ‘Doctor Strange’.

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14 thoughts on “Film Review: ‘Doctor Strange’ (spoiler free)

  1. I thought Benedict Cumberbatch was really good as Doctor Strange. A great cast overall and a strong origin story, a great introduction for the character to the MCU, and the visual effects were stunning. Not perfect, but still a very good Marvel Movie. Great review, you summed it up perfectly 🙂

  2. I’m very excited to see this soon, I already bought my tickets. I heard some of the humour was written in after and done in reshoots. The trippy, mind-bending stuff is what I’m really looking forward to. Great review!

    • Really? I think a lot of the humour lets it down. Other than that it’s good, not Marvel’s greatest by a wide margin but Cumberbatch and the visuals make it worthwhile. Thanks for checking out the review!

  3. I’m yet to see this, but am enthused by most of what I’ve read. I’m probably years behind in my thinking, but I’m starting to wonder if superhero aren’t just a trend. That perhaps, these films are now here to stay. Even if they’re not very good, they still guarantee bums on seats. If so, can we please have the Black Widow movie…I mean, what are they waiting for!?

    • I definitely think that superhero films are here to stay, people crave them now more than ever with the often dire real world situations we see in the news day in day out. That’s the core appeal I think, that people not only want to escape and be entertained but to have there faith restored via stories of these fictional heroes and believe in their values and commitment to justice (even if they are flawed figures, like Batman).

      As for Doctor Strange, it’s a good watch although I feel the reviews are little too on the positive side. It’s more a case of Ant-Man than something in the same league as Civil War.

      Oh and with DC releasing Wonder Woman next year and a Harely Quinn team-up film in the works I reckon it won’t be too long before Marvel commit to Black Widow!

      Great to hear from you Gareth, thanks for checking out the review!

      • I wasn’t aware of the Harley Quinn team-up. It’s interesting that Harley emerged from the Suicide Squad smoke with more fan appreciation than Joker, who up until now, has been arguably the most popular comic book villain. I’m still yet to see Suicide Squad and BvS (I run about 3-years behind everyone else), but from the little I can gather, I’ve noticed people making excuses for those films, rather than outright praising them. I’ll decide for myself, eventually. It’s interesting isn’t it, just the world of cinema has been changed by the superhero film. It’s like moviehouses and studio’s the world over have struck gold. Like you say, people just cant get enough. Cna you imagine 30-years ago, a character as one-dimensional as Captain America, helming his own blockbuster franchise within a franchise…? Characters like Ant-Man grossing over $100m domestically? I think you’re right, there’s no closing the floodgates now.

      • As a comics fan, I enjoyed BvS and SS quite a lot and watched them with an eye on the ‘big picture’ but they’re probably less crowd pleasing and as accessible as the Marvel films (BvS requires some knowledge of DC Comics history to fully appreciate it). I do hope that DC can start to turn things around from a critical standpoint but don’t cop out by trying to mimic the tone of the Marvel films, they really need to establish they’re own cinematic identity.

      • I saw Man of Steel and felt that film needed to be a lot better than it was. It’s easy to criticise Zack Snyder, who has overseen an incredible amount of work with the DC properties, but I do question the decision to make so much of what we have seen his create vision. I think having a variation of creative input in this new kind of movie-making is the way forward. It prevents the films from blending into each other so much, and allows for a more diverse range of tone across the canon. Knowing you enjoyed BvS and SS offers hope that I might too.

  4. Fantastic review bro! I just saw the movie tonight, and I totally agree with you. While it was quite a visual experience, at the core, it still had its issues. I also really felt the “too much” in the comedy. I really found that unfortunate when the character of Doctor Strange brings so much to the plainfield (MCU). I’m also saddened by the villain and how… not memorable they turned out in the end. I’m just glad that the casting was on point like you’ve mentioned. I can definitely see a great Doctor Strange 2 for phase 4 or 5 of the MCU (who knows :P). In the end, they forced the Marvel vibe down Doctor Strange’s character. It was still a highly entertaining movie though! 😀

    – Lashaan

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