Doctor Strange, directed by Scott Derrickson, took its time to find its momentum, but once it did, it began to offer one of the most stimulating Marvel films in some time. Visuals that truly wow and worlds with infinite possibilities, takes the previously built out Marvel universe and turns it on its head. Now this isn’t a film that 100% knocked it out of the park – there are in fact quite a few glaring issues with the film – and so ‘Doctor Strange’ is a film that I’m interested and eager to breakdown. So let’s get on with it.
The story in the film follows Dr. Stephen Strange – played by Benedict Cumberbatch – who is a well-known and very successful neurosurgeon. However a nasty car accident leaves him unable to continue with the only thing that brings him fulfilment in life. After exhausting all avenues in a search for a quick-fix for his disability, he sets out to get help from an unknown and mystical source. What he finds, is something that completely alters his entire understanding of the world, and sets him on a path to becoming something far beyond his initial expectations.
So for me, I was not initially interested in Doctor Strange. I’m not the biggest Marvel movie fan (anymore); the trailers didn’t really entice me and I knew that it was going to be another origin story for a superhero I knew nothing about. Interestingly though, that disinterest in the film did not last – it was certainly there in the beginning of the film, which I will touch upon in a moment – but once the film finished, there was a lot that I found to like about it.
But before I got to that place of liking the film there was the initial boredom that I felt. I – like many other people – cannot be bothered with superhero films that are also origin stories for the character. We’ve all seen far too many, and we know the beats that the film will inevitably hit in its attempts to set the person up as a new super power within its universe. The first act of Doctor Strange was tedious. All the tropes where there and it looked to be shaping up to me another by the numbers origin story of a character I had no want to care or invest in. The shackles of the structure in act 1 are thankfully thrown off when the film finally finds its own voice and style. The first time that the film showed off what it was going to not only offer to the bloated Marvel universe, but how it was going to differentiate this new character from all the other now very well established (and frankly a little tiresome) superheroes, made me sit-up in my chair and get a little rumble of excitement in my person.
So let’s talk about that very different character: Doctor Strange. At first the film sets him up as an unlikeable person and that worked on me, I did not like the character, but not for the reasons the film was pushing for. The unsubtle ways in which the film tries to make you dislike Dr. Stephen Strange didn’t affect my view of him, because I could see through the heavy-handed attempts to make me not like him. Why I didn’t care for the character at first was because by seeing the overt ways in which ‘Strange’ was handled, told me that I shouldn’t attach myself to this iteration of the character, as the film would soon completely alter who he was, and he’d evolve into a character who was much more likeable and much more suited to the structure a character must adhere to in Marvel’s bigger plans. So this kind of left the character as a non-participant in act 1 for me.
But again, when the film finds its main (interesting) momentum – the now very open and clear path that it would be traveling down for the rest of the film – it was then that I became invested in seeing where the character would go. During all of this you have a good performance from Benedict Cumberbatch. The actor delivers an accent that for me was distractingly off; one that took me out of the experience more than once. But it didn’t dominate my opinion of him, I enjoyed what he brought to the character and the film, and I feel he will fit in well with the rest of the Marvel universe; whether he will stand out from all the other big names and performances in the Marvel films is another question (of which the answer will be quite interesting).
Being on the section of my review where I touch upon the characters and performances, means that I have come to the ever-present section when reviewing a Marvel film: the failed attempt at a villain. Why… WHY! Would you employ someone like Mads Mikkelsen, an actor who brings so much to the table in terms of his acting range, and then you stick him with a character to play, who receives NO meaningful development, and whose only purpose is to have someone for your main character to fight. Mikkelsen’s character, Kaecilius is once again a villain in a Marvel film who is underserved and void of any attempt to make him compelling. I mean, the film actually has a scene in which two characters (neither of which who are Kaecilius) take part in some expository dialogue, to try to expand on the – non-existent – motivations of the “evil” character… oh also while having a magical fight. That’s it… that’s the films attempt at expanding on who Kaecilius is and what it is that drove him the evils he is now conducting.
When Kaecilius demise finally came (spoiler, the massively underdeveloped villain doesn’t win the day) I was left wondering why I was supposed to be glad he lost. The film never clearly outlines why he is doing what he is doing and with some of the (miniscule) twists that it throws in, I was only more confused as to why I would be happy to see his death(?) come in such a brutal way. Not only does the film fail to set-out who the character is, it also failed to make me root against him. Also, and I can’t stress this point enough: don’t bring an actor like Mads Mikkelsen into the Marvel cinematic universe and then completely and totally waste his talents on a character that you can’t even be bothered to develop in a way that makes him a clear and understandable threat!
Despite the failings with the films main antagonist, there is still a decent plot running throughout the film; one that kept me (more or less) engaged. Yes, a lot of the plot is given to setting up its main character and this new and very different world he has become a part of. But there are also attempts to introduce some new and interesting (interesting is terms of their effect on the Marvel cinematic universe) elements that I’m very interested to see going forward. Even though the plot is basic in its approach and execution; once it got going, I think it was still enough to keep things moving along in an entertaining way. But perhaps the best element to how the plot is handled is in how the film approaches the final big bad that it has been setting up for the whole film. (No Spoilers). Instead of some large, dull fight sequence where the protagonist just punches a lot of stuff, we instead get a set-piece that is really great to watch play out, and we also have the protagonist utilising the powers and abilities he’s gained over the course of the film, to dispatch the big bad in a smart and intriguing way. By putting the big fighty-set-piece earlier in the film where it didn’t feel cliché, it meant the film was able to tackle its bigger threat in a way that played better for the character, story and our eyeballs (trust me that last one makes sense once you’ve seen the film).
Speaking of things that delight your eyeballs, ‘Doctor Strange’ has a visual style that makes it one of the most exciting and fulfilling Marvel films to watch, perhaps ever; think of it like a bunch of kaleidoscopes having a massive brawl. From the moment the film showed how it was going to visually tackle the world(s) of Doctor Strange, I was completely blown away and in love with all of it. It never got old; I was continually wowed every time the film transported me to another place or took me on a crazy adventure within one of its many set-pieces. It is absolutely the crowning achievement of the film.
Speaking of those set-pieces: Wow! Not only are they so different in their construction and execution, but they’re also surprisingly easy to follow. When you have a group of characters running through portals and running along the sides of buildings that are all of a sudden not the side anymore because the entire geometry of the building and the surrounding landscape has changed, and you are still able to coherently understand where everyone is in relation to one another and who is chasing who, etc. Well that’s an achievement that deserves to be recognised and praised. To take something so complicated for the mind to comprehend and then make it understandable while also being so totally different from anything you’ve ever seen before, is undoubtedly incredible. Being able to experience that is one of the main elements that makes’ seeing ‘Doctor Strange’ such a rewarding experience.
It also poses some interesting questions and aspirations for the Marvel universe going forward. I can’t wait to see, not only how the powers shown in this film will alter future films, but also how the visual style of this film will play-out in other Marvel films. There are a lot of problems with the whole Marvel cinematic universe thing; but I feel the very different way in which ‘Doctor Strange’ is handled is not one of them. There are a lot of elements from this film that I can’t wait to see how they end up being translated into other Marvel outings (Avengers films being a perfect example).
I was in a mixed place in the beginning of this film; there was a lot that it was doing that felt very samey and safe. But once the film revealed what incredible new elements it was bringing to the massively established universe of Marvel. I was not only excited for more of it in the future, but I was also really happy with what it did to and for the film itself. It is in no way a perfect film, and still has a lot of the issues that plague nearly every other Marvel film, but there is also something so unique and I couldn’t help but fall for all of its unexpected wonders.
I’m going to recommend ‘Doctor Strange’. In the end, I had fun. I was bored by some of the tropes, but I was also blown away by so many of the unique offerings. This is certainly a Marvel film worth your time.
What are your thoughts on ‘Doctor Strange’? Let me know in the comments down below. If you’re interested, you could either follow this blog directly, or follow me over on Twitter – @GavinsTurtle. Thank you for taking the time to read this larger than usual review. I really do appreciate it!