Doctor Strange (2016)
Visually creative and sporting an ensemble cast, the 14th entry in the Marvel Cinematic universe is a curious yet satisfying blend of pseudo-science, eastern philosophy and soul searching boat load of vivid CGI. Despite being somewhat confined by the narrative framework of the “origin movie”, Doctor Strange is subtly different entry in to the Marvel pantheon, with it nods to Christopher Nolan’s Inception and the magic versus reality themes of the Harry Potter series. It effectively juggles the evolution of a flawed central character in to an equally flawed hero with the eye-popping visuals and set pieces. There’s a lot of intense brooding, witty quips and action. Furthermore, it has a great deal of flair and strikes an appropriate tone for such material. It comes close to being camp without stepping over the line.
Considering how such a movie could have gone drastically wrong, Doctor Strange is a very unique flower: visually arresting with quite a complex set of themes and undercurrents. Director Scott Derrickson, who also co-wrote the screenplay, makes the transition from his horror movie roots to this more flamboyant affair with considerable ease. The screenplay is surprisingly droll without negating the genuine drama as Doctor Steven Strange comes to terms with his own failings, ego and transgressions. Yet the director’s real achievement is in handling the mystical elements of the story in way where they don’t just come across as childish or the ramblings of one of your stoner friends from college.
The casting is certainly one of strongest assets of Doctor Strange. Benedict Cumberbatch is ideal as the brilliant and arrogant neurosurgeon whose career is brought to an abrupt end after a devastating car accident. Unlike Tony Stark who is equally as egotistical and self-absorbed, he lacks the interpersonal skills and humanity that the other inherently has. It’s quite a gamble to have a hero who is so unlikable, yet it is these very flaws that make him so interesting and unpredictable. Strange’s despair over the loss of his surgeon’s hands leads him to Nepal and to the secretive enclave headed by a guru known as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). It is here we slowly re-invents himself as he learns of a world of magic, that is equally as complex as his world of science.
Swinton delivers a solid performance as Strange’s mentor in the art of magic. She is both wise, practical and even a little cruel in her teaching methodology. She also has a more complex set of motives than the viewer first perceives. There is also robust support from Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo and Benedict Wong as Wong, who bring some emotional depth and dry banter to the story. If there is a flaw in the cast, its sadly Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius. As a somewhat formulaic, renegade disciple he doesn’t really have as much to do as the rest of the characters and his story arc is somewhat linear. Doctor Strange’s trademark cloak also proves to be an amusing minor protagonist in itself, as it chooses to bond with Strange and robustly defends him. It is a pivotal part of one action scene and has by far the best gags.
Overall Doctor Strange is a strong and very different super hero movie. The performances and the focus on character development counter balance the striking yet very bombastic visual effects. They are very creative and psychedelic, yet for older and less patient viewers they do at times feel like you’re being beaten around the head with a kaleidoscope. And it would be most remiss of me not to mention Stan Lee’s latest cameo as a bus passenger perusing a copy of Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception. Well played whoever thought that one up. As ever there are several cinematic postscripts hinting at where Doctor Strange will be going next. Luckily, on the strength of this outing, I’m am well-disposed to towards the character and would welcome the opportunity to see more of his adventures.