You might enjoy this film and you might not, but from the very first scene you know exactly what you’re going to get. We begin with a decapitation within the first thirty seconds, before the attackers flee from a Nepalese temple, through a portal, right onto the slick city streets half a world away. It sets the tone for the rest of the film, and it’s this blend of ancient mysticism and modern concrete that make it so fun.
Our titular character is Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon who looks down at his phone while driving and wakes up without the full use of his hands. After exhausting all conventional means to repair himself, he resorts to more spiritual methods and travels to the sanctum of “The Ancient One”, where he begins to study the arcane arts. Here he meets Karl Mordo, a fellow student of The Ancient One, fully devoted to her teachings. While this is happening, one of their mentor’s former students plans to present Earth to a supremely powerful entity called Dormammu.
Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as Strange, with that American accent masking his all-too-familiar British inflections (which only added to the weirdness of the character). Tilda Swinton is wonderful as The Ancient One, with that charming smile underneath shrewd eyes. There was a decent amount of controversy in casting a white woman to play a role adapted from an Asian, male character in the comics. Whatever your particular stance on this subject, there can be no denying that the character, and the actress portraying her, were very enjoyable. Mads Mikkelsen plays Kaecilius, a compelling character who made a lot of sense in his arguments for his actions. While he is certainly one of the better antagonists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is unfortunately not saying a great deal. Alongside Cumberbatch against this threat is Chiwetel Ejiofor, who I honestly have never seen deliver anything less than a stellar performance. The only complaint here is that there simply wasn’t enough of him – which is one of the better complaints to have about a character.
A great amount of the praise being directed at this film has been of the CGI. For the most part, this is deserved. Funky, kaleidoscopic sequences and incredibly real magical spell effects appear throughout the movie. There are moments, though, where the movie magic collapses and you’re left wondering if you’ve managed to find the exact moment where the budget ran out. Ironically, the only stuff that fell short was that which could’ve been done better with practical effects. A car wreck, a gravity-distorting jump from wall to ground. The film tries desperately to outdo the city-folding of Inception (and succeeds, at times) but very often ignores the practical effects which supplemented that CGI.
This is to say that the film is certainly not perfect. The filmmakers seem to rely a little to heavily on the “eh, it’s magic, we don’t really need to explain anything” mentality. This is fine for conjuring weapons out of thin air and pulling one’s astral self out of one’s physical body, but not so much when Strange gets his cloak, which is sentient… I think. It seems to deflect weapons for the most part, but after a lull in the fighting is inexplicably nonreactive when a spear is thrown at Strange. There’s also a thing called a “sling ring” now, which allows Strange to create a portal to another location. This wasn’t in the comics (as far as I’m aware, anyway), and, as Strange is able to create these portals without such aid in the source material, I see no reason for its inclusion in the film. It looks silly and feels pointless.
Michael Giacchino provides the score. I had no idea of this walking in, but by the end of the film I was waiting for his name in the credits. It’s very similar to his work on Star Trek. I can’t decide if it’s good that it’s similar to such a great score, or bad that it’s not as original as it could be. I had the same mixed feelings towards an earlier establishing shot of New York City, with the Avengers tower displayed prominently near the centre of the screen, enormous neon A atop it. It’s more glaring than cute, and it nearly tricks you into thinking we’re about to be taken to a scene inside the building.
Without going into spoilers (see it!) the action set-pieces are novel and exciting. Gravity-dilation, time-distortion and a playful attitude towards physics in general make for entertaining fight sequences, which are placed in just the right spots across the movie. It’s a refreshing change of pace (for Marvel, anyway) and a worthy addition to our now-enormous library of superhero films.
Doctor Strange is in cinemas now.