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Movie Review | Doctor Strange

Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) masters the mystic arts in Doctor Strange

Movie summary: While on a journey of physical and spiritual healing, a brilliant neurosurgeon is drawn into the world of the mystic arts. (IMDb)

There are a lot of people who like to argue that all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films look so similar that they are hard to tell apart. It’s utter rubbish anyway, but Doctor Strange really blows that argument out of the water with visuals unlike any other major blockbuster released recently, let alone the MCU.

Yes, there is a scene where New York folds on itself, much like Inception, but where that film stopped, Doctor Strange just keeps going and going until there are multiple New Yorks on-screen, all folding in and around themselves as they float around each other. I will point out that this particular scene is still not even the best or most bizarre imagery that this movie throws at you.

There is one sequence early on where Strange is sent hurtling through different dimensions that must have been hell to come up with as concepts. Much like entering the Quantum Realm in Ant-Man, it must have been one hell of a challenge for the VFX wizards to plan how things were going to fold in on each other and deliberately not make sense, while still being visually comprehensible to audiences.

Moving on from the visuals, this is also one of the few films in the MCU to actually have a memorable score, due in no small part to Michael Giacchino, helped by a strong theme for the title character that repeats in different ways and with different tones at various points throughout the movie. There are also some great vocals heard in reverse, including a choral track that is downright eerie and perfectly fitting a film that messes around with time so much, with the heroes facing off with time in the right direction as their surroundings revert to an earlier state.

The use of time also plays a part in the film’s resolution, with Doctor Strange proving that out-thinking an opponent is just valid a way to win as out-fighting them. Yes, it may be a CGI-spectacle like any number of other superhero movies, but Strange continues to act as healer, putting things back together as they should be rather than destroying them in pursuit of victory.

This all works thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Stephen Strange, perfectly cast in the role of someone who is arrogant because they’re brilliant and know it. This isn’t type-casting though, unlike Cumberbatch’s Sherlock who had difficulties understanding how to interact with people who weren’t his brother, Strange knows how to behave properly and simply chooses not to.

The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) teaches Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in Doctor Strange

In fact, it’s rather unique that Strange’s character changes very little throughout the course of the film, with the character maintaining a certain level of smug arrogance and superiority all the way through. That’s not to say that Strange has no character development, but it’s quite a subtle change that feels like a realistic evolution of an actual person, maintaining their own identity to make them feel unique, while also having them grow and evolve.

Equally as good is Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, a long-time student of Strange’s teacher, the Ancient One, also played brilliantly by Tilda Swinton. Seriously, this cast is stacked: Benedict Wong is great as… well, Wong; and Rachel McAdams is also good although she’s given very little to work with. If McAdams returns for the recently-announced sequel, I hope her character is treated better.

Then there’s Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius, who gives a typically intense performance, but unfortunately suffers from the problem of being a generic 'dark reflection' of the hero, rather than a genuine antagonist to challenge Strange's character. Mikkelsen gives a great performance, it’s just a shame that the material doesn’t live up to his efforts.

It should be noted that the story is a fairly routine affair, but the film’s aesthetics and the consistently-fantastic performances certainly balance it out. Plus, I think it's a little hypocritical to deride 'formulaic' stories when James Cameron movies have very little originality to their plot, but are executed to perfection. Doctor Strange is nowhere that standard, but neither is it poor or even mediocre.

Doctor Strange is a good film, but had the potential to be so much more - which is actually a little ironic because this is pretty much how Strange is viewed by the Ancient One for most of the film. Hopefully, with the origin out of the way - and a power upgrade in the last two Avengers movies - any sequel can push the boundaries a little further.


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