Directed by Scott Derrickson
Written by Jon Spaihts and Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill
Sitting here in phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we’re smack dab in the middle of a period of new character introduction, which can go one of two ways. It can reinvigorate the franchise with fresh blood, or it can bloat it to such a degree that when all our heroes came back together, it will be hard to find time for all of them to be involved, hard to find something each of them can actually do to contribute. And as we continue down this path, this is also the point in the franchise where I begin to wonder if we’ll ever lose a core character, or just keep adding in more. Losing a character isn’t necessarily appropriate in an origin story film like Doctor Strange, but the thought is beginning to enter my mind as we get more and more characters. Of the two, I think this film works as both. Benedict Cumberbatch and company breath new life with new characters, but it also presents yet another character we’ll eventually have to bring into the greater story being told.
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a top neurosurgeon in New York City, but he’s also brash, cocky, and driven to a fault, leaving friends and lovers in his wake to become the best he can possibly be. But when a gruesome car accident leaves his nerves frayed to the point he will never be able to operate again, Strange seeks a miracle case (Benjamin Bratt), who points him to Kamar-Taj, where, after all medical options are exhausted, Strange seeks to learn under the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) in the supernatural powers of the universe. Given his makeup, Strange takes to the practice quickly, which is key when a former student turned zealot Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson) comes challenge the Ancient One and threatens the world with his dark power and obsession with immortality.
Immediately Strange reminds me a lot of Tony Stark. Cocky, brash, brilliant. And it takes a severe accident/life event to turn him “good”. And that comparison is not exactly a compliment if you’ve been following along in this marathon: Stark is not my favorite, while I also recognize how cool he is. And Strange is cool in many ways too, especially as he develops his wizard powers at Kamar-Taj. I think the best thing Doctor Strange has going for it is its pivot to something we haven’t seen in the MCU to this point: the supernatural. And the special effects are there to match, no doubt, with perhaps the best special effects of the series to this point. They’re sharp, clear and imaginative, with the film playing like a weird mash-up of Inception and Harry Potter. The film has a LOT of special effects throughout, but it doesn’t ever feel like a jumbled CGI mess like many of these types of films can. That’s a huge compliment.
Another thing of note about Doctor Strange is its cast, which is probably the most accomplished of any film in the series. Other films have featured lot of movie stars, but Doctor Strange marks the first time I see a lot of great ACTORS in the cast. Cumberbatch, Swinton, Mikkelsen and Ejiofor make up a pretty formidable array of talent, and it’s a lot of fun to see them chewing up the scenery here, bringing a lot to the table. And while Benedict Wong isn’t in that class, his comedic relief sidekick role cuts through perfectly. We even get Michael Stuhlbarg in a bit part. The sore thumb here, as much as I hate to say it, is Rachel McAdams, whom I adore, but she seems outmatched here.
Overall, the film is entertaining, and the action/effects are breathtaking, but it ranks among the middle of the franchise as it doesn’t seem to entirely capitalize on the star power of its cast, or the supernatural, science v. faith debate which it raises, but quickly glosses over to get to the action. I think Stephen Strange is a fascinating character study, but the film is quick to get to the villain and conclusion that we don’t get the full arc that would have made this one of the best films of the franchise. For that reason, Doctor Strange is a solid movie, and an intriguing introduction to the character, but I’m looking forward to spending more time with Stephen Strange to see his further development as opposed to this half-baked, but imaginative origin story.