This isn’t the first time Doctor Strange has appeared in cinematic form. If you want to check out of a review of the 1978 Doctor Strange movie, I wrote one for VultureHound some months back.
RELEASED: 24th October 2016
DISTRIBUTED BY: Disney
DIRECTED BY: Scott Derrickson
WRITTEN BY: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill & Jon Spaits
PRODUCED BY: Kevin Feige
MUSIC BY: Michael Giacchino
STARRING: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen & Tilda Swinton
Doctor Strange follows arrogant neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) after an accident leaves him unable to continue his work. Broken and desperate, Strange travels to Kamar-Taj, where he becomes a disciple of the Ancient One (Swinton), Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme. As Strange quickly becomes adept in the mystic arts, he is drawn into confrontation with a sect of rogue Sorcerers lead by Kaecilius (Mikkelsen), who seeks to merge the planet Earth with the Dark Dimension.
As the first true exploration of magic in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange is a visually striking film, with a look quite unlike anything we’ve seen before in the superhero genre. From the Inception-like bending of reality to the various spells and energy weapons summoned by the sorcerers, the film really is a treat through the eyes. The now-famous scene of Strange being hurled through the multiverse is utterly spectacular, both for invoking the Doctor Strange mythos so poignantly and for being such a mind-bending romp.
This stellar look is paired with great performances from the cast. Cumberbatch and his peers are given a chance to flex a variety of acting muscles in the film, tackling tension-filled situations and comedic moments with ease. Unlike the other Marvel movies, you can actually tell what the villain’s motivation is and see the driving force behind them. Mads Mikkelson conveys a pain and anger that feels genuine; it’s not as forced and hammy as some of his predecessors roles have been. And when he’s given humour to deadpan, he pulls it off perhaps better than anyone else in the cast.
Unfortunately, that, in itself, is a problem.
You see, while Mikkelsen and Wong (who plays Wong) deadpan lines to great success, the other moments of humour just aren’t that funny. Even worse, they’re unnecessary and don’t really fit in the film. The jokes are sometimes dropped at the most inconvenient times, and feel like they’re there just to fit with the mould of every other Marvel film.
It’s this strong reliance on the ‘Marvel formula’ that really holds this film back. We’ve seen this exact origin story before, and the way everything plays out, visuals aside, feels same old, same old. It stumbles in the same way all the other movies do, and just doesn’t feel fresh or all that exciting. When Ant-Man came out, people started to wonder if these films might run the risk of getting stale, but I would argue that it’s Doctor Strange that really highlights their flaws. This is perhaps because it came just after Captain America: Civil War, a film that really highlighted how great these films can be.
Furthermore, the one thing that differentiates the film from the others in the series, the magic, isn’t all that spectacular. While the larger effects are very cool to see, like the alternate realities, the mirror dimension and the aforementioned Inception-style reality bending, they ultimately don’t lead to much of anything. Outside of that, we get astral projection that just ends in a fist fight, and sorcerers summoning the same old ‘magic’ weapons for more hand-to-hand combat.
Even worse, the most magical thing that happens in the movie… [SPOILER ALERT] isn’t actually magical. For the second half of the film, Strange wields the Eye of Agamotto, something comic-book fans will be fairly familiar with, which turns out to just be another Infinity Stone. Sure, to the average passerby, it may look like magic, but really, like the ‘magic’ in the Thor films, it’s really just a cosmic macguffin [END OF SPOILERS].
It is alluded to that the Ancient One has kept the true potential of magic a secret, so maybe in subsequent films we may see some more spectacular powers, but for all it’s good looks, Doctor Strange is a film that just leaves you wanting.
I give it:
Because despite all that, it is still an enjoyable film. Unfortunately, it’s just more of the same, and like Iron Fist, it fails to live up to it’s true potential.
I feel that Kevin Feige should have stuck with his claim that they were dropping origin stories from these movies, because although Strange’s origin is cool enough, they easily could have covered it in a flashback in the first five minutes and just skipped to a story where he’s an established story.