by: Joshua Outred – Staff Writer
From all the promotional material, trailers, TV spots etc, it was clear that Marvel’s Doctor Strange was going to push visual boundaries, and visual boundaries it certainly pushed. However, superhero fatigue has set in, and it’s stronger than ever with this visually impressive yet incredibly predictable comic book adaptation.
Doctor Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character tells the story of famed neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange, a man with confidence, money, fame and an incredibly steady set of hands. Stephen Strange has unmatchable talents as a neurosurgeon, succeeding at life saving brain surgery where so many others would and have failed. He has everything, charm, charisma, wit, a fast car sports car, and a luxury apartment. However, it’s often said that those who gain power will eventually lose it, and in the case of Stephen Strange the neurosurgeon, that most definitely applies.
When Strange ends up in a horrific car accident and loses the use of both his hands, he has to come to the realization that he may not be able to operate again. Struggling to accept the reality of the situation, Strange seeks out many options to help heal his once miracle working hands, his search goes from experimental surgery to mystical healing in Kathmandu, Nepal. After becoming acquainted with The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), Strange goes on a mythical journey to the depths of time and space to learn how to regain the use of his hands again.
Introduced early on is Christine Palmer, played by Rachel McAdams, an E.R surgeon and friend/lover/typical Marvel support actress to Bendedict’s Stephen Strange, playing a limited role in the film. McAdams really only serves as the connection Strange will have between Strange the Sorcerer and his old self. Tilda Swinton’s The Ancient One is both kind and unpredictable, Swinton gives a convincing and at times calming performance as the Sorcerer Supreme, playing the wise teacher who’ll eventually put Strange in his place – not without a few bumps along the way. The Ancient One’s original reluctance to teach Strange comes down to the fact that she’s already lost one disciple to the darkness – gifted sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).
Kaecilius stole pages from an ancient book on the lore of the universe in order to seek ultimate power and eternal life, who he believes will be gifted to him by Dormammu (an evil galaxy-eating-life-sucker). Mads was the absolute perfect casting for the role of Kaecilius, he brings an eerie demeanor to a character whose plans seem doomed from the beginning. I’m a big fan of Mads Mikkelsen and it makes me really happy to see him appearing in big flicks like Doctor Strange, Marvel however have yet to convince me that any of the villains can do anything other than bring down a few buildings before eventually being torn down themselves, an issue I doubt will ever be solved, especially after 14 films.
An honorable shoutout to the supporting characters of Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong). Both characters were really enjoyable in their moments, though it’s unfortunate that Wong only seemed to be relagated to comic relief, another issue it feels like every Marvel film has. (See Michael Pena in Ant-Man) Much like the character, Wong’s comedy felt forced in there, for no other reason than to lighten the mood.
One positive aspect of every Marvel film is the pacing, each and every film from the MCU so far has been paced incredibly well, and Doctor Strange is no different. Not only is it my favourite superhero origin story so far, it’s also the most visually stunning film I’ve seen in recent years, many I’m sure will agree. Derrickson has conjured up 2001: A Space Odyssey on LSD, a visual trip that’ll melt your eyeballs from your skull and leave your jaw firmly planted to floor, it’s also worth noting another huge achievement, so many stories get lost in the visuals, this does not. The colors, and urgency that the VFX department have masterfully conjured up with Doctor Strange not only serve the story being told
– they enhance it, they make you as the viewer want to climb through the screen and role around in the fluffy-craziness of time and space, it’s like a twisted rubix cube of candy. Props also have to go to Derrickson for not allowing the incredible visuals to confuse the viewer, intense scenes like the final battle and Strange’s first look into the alternate dimensions can sometimes confuse the eye, this never does, something the director and VFX team deserve major credit for achieving.
The action set pieces of the film are rather generic, Marvel and DC filmmakers have gotten into a stylistic habit of using the slow-motion-video-game camera work, whether it’s slowing the frame down to achieve a heightened sense of the powers being used or too create suspense as two characters approach one another, it’s always prominent. However, in the case of Doctor Strange this slow-mo frame-work pays off. When you’re playing with time and dimensional shifts during action, it helps immerse the viewer and focus the eye on exactly what it is the director wants you to see, with Strange it’s necessary, however I feel the future Marvel filmmakers need to find new techniques when filming action sequences to add that fresh touch.
In conclusion, Doctor Strange gets a lot right, it’s the best origin story the MCU has produced yet, and the first act is carefully spent building Benedict Cumberbatch’s Strange as a wealthy, arrogant, self-centered playboy very much in the vein of RDJ’s Tony Stark. I thoroughly enjoyed the mysticism, and the visuals unlike anything we’ve seen from a superhero adaptation yet, Scott Derrickson has crafted a fantastically immersive story through an incredible vision, and another stellar, charismatic performance from Cumberbatch. Unfortunately the script suffers from an overuse of forced comedic moments that seem to be there not because they need to be, but because it’s become a requirement from these tentpole superhero flicks. I’ve undoubtedly fallen victim to the phrase known as ‘superhero fatigue’, and Doctor Strange hasn’t done anything to change that. Another villain portrayed by an incredible actor falls flat, yet another common trait that Marvel still needs to work to fix.
All in all Doctor Strange is a fun, visual trip that adds to the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe that will unfortunately may end up forgotten not long after the next wave begins.