Ant-Man, Batman, Batman Begins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Bruce Wayne, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cinema, Doctor Strange, Film, Film Review, Guardians of the Galaxy, Inception, Iron Man, Josh Brolin, Mads Mikkelsen, Marvel, Marvel Cinematic Universe, MCU, Movie, Movie Review, Rachel McAdams, Robert Downey Jr, Superhero, Superhero Movie, Thanos, The Avengers, Tony Stark
“Doctor Strange” went completely under my radar prior to release. I knew that it was in production and I was aware that Benedict Cumberbatch had been cast as the titular character, but apart from that I hadn’t heard much about it. Imagine my surprise then when I saw the trailer for the first time last Monday and realised that it would be hitting screens in less than a week. From a marketing perspective this could be construed as a criticism, but for me it was actually quite refreshing and enhanced the experience overall.
I knew nothing about Doctor Strange prior to watching this movie, so each plot point came as a surprise. I didn’t know about his backstory, his personality, or the powers that he had access to, and I also didn’t know anything about the villain that he’d be battling. This made the film much more compelling for me than it might’ve been had I been previously acquainted with the character, as I experienced Doctor Strange’s discoveries as he made them rather than pre-empting them in advance. I didn’t know what was going to happen and I didn’t have a firm enough understanding of the character to guess, so I could simply sit back and enjoy the grandiose nature of the story without needing to nit-pick its authenticity.
This meant that I could enjoy the film like everyone else as I wasn’t preoccupied with how the character was being handled – something which I can’t do when watching most other superhero films – and I could appreciate how the film was presented when reality was being bent and new abilities were being uncovered. This presentation was undoubtedly the best thing about the movie itself, as the special effects were as good as any I’ve seen before.
Nonetheless, I should say that whilst the effects are amazing, the story is quite lacklustre. Doctor Strange is a cocky success story with an ego problem who has to overcome adversity in his life in the only way a comic book character can; by journeying to a foreign land and becoming a badass. This is an origin story that we’ve seen plenty of times before, and it clearly resembles Bruce Wayne’s arc in “Batman Begins”, although Doctor Strange’s personal problems are entirely his fault and his goal is much less noble.
Moreover, this self-destructive aspect of the character makes the film feel derivative, as Strange resembles Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) much more than he should given that they may appear on screen together one day. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – Stark is one of the most beloved and recognisable characters in film today – but we don’t want too many characters with similar qualities clogging up one movie universe.
On the other hand, to call this film unoriginal isn’t to say that it’s a failure – it’s quite the opposite. It takes on a story which is very much ‘out there’ and it does so with confidence, maintaining the Marvel tone whilst giving Strange’s story weight. At the same time it separates itself from everything else that Marvel is doing right now by being visually distinctive, looking more like “Inception” than an “Avengers” movie, and in my view it’s one of the most intriguing additions to the MCU to date.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ant-Man” were risky properties to bring to the big screen, but Marvel managed to make both of them entertaining and meaningful. They felt like they had a place in the universe and the same can be said for “Doctor Strange”. It tells an isolated story, with powers coming into play that we’ve never seen before in a Marvel film, but it still feels like a Marvel movie and I have no doubt that it’ll mesh perfectly with the ideas that are already in play in the MCU.
In my view everything is coming together in the overarching story that the studio has built, and it feels as though there will be an amazing payoff somewhere down the line. Doctor Strange will definitely play a part in this, particularly considering that Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) arrival is right around the corner.
With all this in mind, I should mention that whilst “Doctor Strange” takes everything that’s good about Marvel’s formula, it also inherits its problems. The villain in this film is underdeveloped and used as a building block for the hero rather than as a fully-fledged character in his own right, which is a shame because an actor of Mads Mikkelsen’s calibre could’ve bucked that trend.
The secondary characters in the film aren’t afforded enough time to make an impact on the story to feel worthy of the actors playing them, which is most apparent in the case of Christine (played by Rachel McAdams). McAdams could’ve been great here if she’d been allowed to show her ability as an actress and build a rapport with Cumberbatch, but instead she was relegated to a character device to make Strange feel human. She never really felt essential to the story or to Strange, and the only thing to take away regarding her character was that she was nice. Chiwetel Ejiofor was also wasted in his role, and his character arc fell flat despite the fact that he could be important going forward.
Despite these problems, “Doctor Strange” was a cinematic experience that I’ll remember for a long time, and it did its job by establishing another major player in the MCU. The effects were incredible, comedic dialogue hit its mark, and the performances of the actors involved were good despite the fact that no one really got the chance to shine. It’s another entertaining film to add to Marvel’s library, and it will most likely start another successful franchise.