Movie Review: Doctor Strange (2016)
“The impossibilities are endless.”
Doctor Strange (2016)
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams
Synopsis: A brilliant neurosurgeon searching for a cure after he loses full use of his hands following a car crash finds himself drawn into a mysterious world of mystic sorcery.
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Marvel’s bid to conquer the cinematic superhero universe continues apace with the release of Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange. The good doctor is undoubtedly one of the lesser lights of Marvel’s comic books, but that hasn’t stopped them from lavishing the same budget and attention to detail on his tale as they did on those of their A-list heroes.
Like Iron Man’s Robert Downey, Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek Into Darkness, Zoolander 2) casts aside the deerstalker of Sherlock Holmes to don Doctor Strange’s levitating cape. Hardly conventional superhero material, the lanky Cumberbatch nevertheless copes well with the more physical aspects of the role – although his American accent does run away from him on occasion. Strange would be exactly the kind of fabulously wealthy neurosurgeon you’d find in a Mills & Boon potboiler or US daytime soap, and his brilliance with a scalpel is matched only by his arrogance and crass materialism which perhaps explains why, for all their jokingly flirtatious banter, he and his more down-to-earth colleague, Christine Palmer (Rachel MacAdams – Midnight in Paris, About Time), have never taken their relationship to the next level.
But our sense of permanence is an illusion which is easily destroyed, as Strange discovers when a car crash deprives him of the full use of his hands. Plunged into despair, he goes to ever greater lengths in the hope of restoring them, which is how he ends up as a pupil of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton – Moonrise Kingdom), a bald mystic and supreme sorcerer who oversees the protection of the world from mystical threats in much the same way that Marvel’s other superheroes vanquish perils of a more physical nature. With some initial difficulty, The Ancient One opens Strange’s mind to the world of magic that exists alongside our own. But in order to attain the greatest heights of sorcery, he must learn to defy his own instincts and cast aside the set of beliefs and doctrines which made him such a success as a surgeon.
Like most successful formulas, the one devised by Marvel appears deceptively simple, but Warners’ less than successful attempts to emulate their rivals’ success shows just how tricky it can be. It’s even tougher to remain successful when the very nature of your product more or less demands that every superhero introduced to moviegoers has an origin story upon which the series can be built. Somehow, though, Marvel keep doing it, and Doctor Strange’s origin story feels almost as fresh as those of the earliest of Marvel’s movies. Director Derrickson speeds us through the familiar arc undertaken by all superheroes upon first receiving their powers by trimming the story of all fat. There’s not a superfluous scene in the movie, not one that could be cut without causing damage, but the film never feels rushed, even though Strange must quickly develop his powers sufficiently enough to take on a foe that would seem impossible to vanquish.
That foe, an extra-dimensional being, is kept in reserve for most of the movie, with bad guy duties falling instead to his sidekick, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson), who, with the skin around his eyes caked in black gunk, looks more like a dissolute glam rock star who’s just awoken from the previous night’s crying jag. Although the movie’s villain might be a tad insipid, the special effects are as stupendous as we’ve come to expect from Marvel, particularly in the scenes in which reality is distorted in Inception-esque ways.
Doctor Strange provides proof, if any were needed, that the Marvel formula is still holding up well, and is bolstered even further by Cumberbatch, whose convincing journey from fumbling novice to Supreme Sorcerer-elect is made in less than two hours and aided by a smart, and often funny, screenplay. A sequence in the middle of the end credits neatly integrates Strange into the universe inhabited by the other superheroes in the Marvel stable, and will leave fans itching to learn in which direction his story will go.
(Reviewed 5th November 2016)