Directed by Scott Derrickson
Written by Scott Derrickson, Jon Spaihts & C. Robert Cargill.
Produced by Kevin Feige, Louis D’Esposito & Stan Lee
Music by Michael Giacchino
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Michael Stuhlbarg & Benjamin Bratt
UK release date: 25th October
Feature running time: 115 minutes
A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts. (Source: IMDB)
‘You think you know how the world works. You think this material universe is all there is. What if I told you the reality you know is one of many?’ – The Ancient One.
Now into chapter two of Phase Three in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, marking this as Marvel Studios’ 14th film release for the MCU; Doctor Strange couldn’t have been more welcomed at a time where so many tragic remakes and reboots were being churned out of Hollywood, instantly bombing at the box office. With both Marvel and DC battling it out this year, Doctor Strange may not be the best entry that the studio has given us but its a damn sight better than anything its DC Extended Universe rival can bring to the table so far, and as origin stories go, the film did its job well in establishing the character of Stephen Strange to many who aren’t familiar with him (me especially).
I knew absolutely nothing about Doctor Strange when the film was announced. Apart from the fact he’s a sorcerer who likes to dabble in the mystical arts, I didn’t really know anything about him or who he was. It seemed that not a lot of other people did either as the popularity of this character wasn’t very high at all and a far much lesser known hero than the likes of Spider-Man, Iron Man and the rest of the clan. I moaned and sighed as soon as it was confirmed that Benedict Cumberbatch would be taking on the role of the egotistical neurosurgeon turned dimension shifting wizard; an already high profile star who seems to appear in everything nowadays from theatre and television to film. But still, I knew better than to judge so early on, so I waited with bated breath to see something a bit more substantial of the film. Once we got our first look at Cumberbatch in full on costume as Strange, I was intrigued and fully on board.
I was a bit sceptical at first as to what extent with this being another origins story of just how much I would actually enjoy it. I made it loud and clear of the amount of dislike I had towards Ant-Man upon seeing it on its release in July last year, (also a relatively unknown protagonist in Marvel’s rich history) so clearly I didn’t want a repeat performance again. How relieved I was that this turned out to be one of the better recent risks that Marvel have successfully pulled off, along with 2015’s Guardians of The Galaxy. Clocking in at just under two hours, this film gave us everything we need to know about Stephen Strange and more; from establishing what he was like when he was just an average Joe like the rest of us before hitting rock bottom and taking an all low plunge following a near fatal car crash, resulting in his spine being severed and all nerves in his hands removed and killed, to an empowered being who has bought meaning and purpose to his life again and overall destiny. It definitely took a while for me to warm to Strange at first, his selfishness and arrogance to others around him made me feel cold and disconnected from wanting to like and perhaps root for him. He was too much like Tony Stark in some ways but unlike Scott Lang, these are characters who become lonely and traumatised after being such hapless victims of such soul destroying freak accidents until they decide to make a life affirming decision in becoming saviours with the rest of the world hanging in balance. This is such a decision/choice that helps Strange in totally redeeming himself from the careless, big headed and stuck up doctor he once was in his previous life.
Speaking of his horrific car crash, it literally happens ten minutes into the film. Director Scott Derrickson wastes no time at all in getting to the good stuff after giving us a pretty solid idea of who Strange was before the inevitable incident happens. In fact, the whole pacing of this movie is pretty much spot on where no detail, plot point or character arc feels rushed over in any way. And I haven’t even got around to the absolutely spectacular and mind blowing visuals yet that are really the film’s biggest selling point. It’s so easy to make many comparisons to Inception and The Matrix with New York buildings folding over each other and its concept of magic being directly inspired by the latter, but there is so much more to it than that, all you uninitiated folks who have yet to see it have no idea just how much of an immersive experience it provides. Buildings and concretes get taken apart and reshaped, there’s plenty of rule breaking when it comes to the physics of space and time, time looping, time reversal, alternate realities and travelling through different dimensions, something called a mirror dimension that prevents any threats from affecting the real world and being able to easily push your astro-form from your human body. Phew! There’s so many ideas at play here and Marvel Studios have fully outdone themselves by mustering up the best visual effects that has never been seen before in an MCU film to date. Or any film recently. And yes, more mind blowing than Inception; something that I never thought I’d say.
There was one memorable sequence that really stood out as being so mightily impressive, I actually felt like I was tripping high on acid. Its the first time we get to see Strange experience his journey though all the alternate dimensions, courtesy of The Ancient One, (Swinton) regretfully I saw the film in 2D first and even though it still looked stunning, its not until you watch the film in the 3D format that you are truly able to appreciate the eye popping and mind bending special effects as you take everything in. Caution: there’s a highly possible chance you will feel a bit sick and dizzy when its all over but the overall trip is well worth it.
With the focus being laid out so much on Strange’s journey towards recovery and redemption, all the other supporting players unfortunately don’t get much of a look in, leaving most of them, if not all criminally underdeveloped. Swinton as The Ancient One was quite a scene stealer and her character was really interesting but she’s not given enough screen time for us to delve into and explore more of her past and back story. McAdams has the least amount of things to do as Dr. Christine Palmer, the typical love interest who could have been left out of the story completely.
Talking of the story, I was expecting the film to really blow me away. It did kind of do this to a certain extent where the visuals are concerned of course, but the story wasn’t as strong enough to truly win me over, which is disappointing as I was really counting on this being my number one film of 2016; that is until Rogue One: A Star Wars Story comes along in December. Clearly. But this is why the film owes so much to its visual effects, it really goes all the way in helping elevate this story to a higher level of dazzling and breath taking astonishment. But as I said at the start, as far as origin stories go, its one of the best efforts from Marvel. I just wish they would have considered putting more love and care into its whole ensemble of characters, and that certainly applies to the villain(s) too.
Apart from its few flaws, this is a wholly different beast from Marvel Studios and something we should all embrace with open arms. Marvel are always continually pushing boundaries, opening doorways and entering new territories. Its just so refreshing for a studio to take on such bold risks and taking a gamble on all these characters from over fifty years in the Marvel Comics history vault and coming out on top. We needed an origin story that was really something different and here, the studio has opened up to us a whole new undiscovered world filled with endless possibilities (and impossibilities). Open your mind indeed.