Think summer movies are the only time for special effects, action-laden blockbusters? Think again. The latest Marvel film is out today in America (and been out for a week or so overseas, the lucky buggers) and it’s as big and mind blowingly blockbuster-ery as any summer flick before it. The storyline of the Marvel film universe gains a new hero and delves into the magical realm with Dr. Strange.
So what’s it about? This one follows the conventional story of the sorcerer supreme quite closely; an arrogant surgeon breaks his hands, seeks a cure, discovers magic and then finds himself. Add in plenty of other magic wielders like him that have been protecting Earth (or trying to destroy it) and other-dimensional entities/powers and you get the idea.
You’ll dig this character.
There’s a lot right with this movie and the casting is the start of it. Every actor pulls their own weight including the very bald Tilda Swinton; she stole the show for me in a few scenes simply because she captures a god-like joy similar to what we saw with Alanis Morissette in Dogma (though Swinton is decidedly less silly).
Cumberbatch is of course a great lead – we know from Sherlock (at least that’s what my Sherlock fanatic friends keep telling me, I know him best from his rendition of Frankenstein) and he powers some very emotional scenes when in pain and distress. Most importantly he does the arrogant genius well and somehow also pulls this off whilst still being likable.
If you’ve read Doctor Strange: The Oath you’ll note it seems to have inspired the film.
Rachel McAdams is lovely as ever and doesn’t play the damsel or the cliched girlfriend either. Chiwetel Ejiofor is great in the mentor role and stretches a bit later in the film (avoiding spoilers!). As for villains (yes plural!) Mads Mikkelsen does brooding well and looks fabulous. He’s probably the only character that doesn’t make you laugh though. Speaking of which…
The movie is pretty funny. I’ll admit, there were a handful of times the audience was laughing and I wasn’t, but generally the film got a chuckle out of me. Some of the best humor came from the acting (see above), but there’s some nice pop culture humor in there too. There’s also a number of physical comedy bits that work tremendously too. It’s nice to see Marvel understands jokes fit in any film and help bring the seriousness down a notch. That allows the suspension of disbelief to work its magic (pun) a bit more.
Storywise, it all gets wrapped up in a nice bow and matches much of the comic book canon. In that regard, Doctor Strange’s origin is very close, Dormammu looks spot on, and Strange’s training feels right. The training actually reminded me of the Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme animated movie which I reviewed back in 2012 (don’t worry the official movie is way better). The magic lines up with how it looks in modern comics and the other dimensions (as seen in most of the trailers) is out of this world. If you dig Doctor Strange comics you will come away happy.
Though you may think this is a rip off of Inception it actually becomes quite unique.
I don’t remember there being this much kicking and fighting in Doctor Strange comics. Like, I get it, Marvel needs lots of fighting since it’s an action movie, but it seems oddly out of place here. Strange does plenty of training in the film and has to use hand-to-hand combat, but why is the bad guy using it when he’s so powerful? Speaking of the bad guy, he does a silly amount of running in the movie for a sorcerer, to the point where they maybe should have used Tom Cruise instead of Mads. Obviously the director needs the bad guys to be chasing after our hero to increase tension (and drama I guess?), but it seriously makes him look weak when he could simply flick his wrist and bend the world or teleport. This guy loves the kicking and punching too.
This might be a biggy issue for some (though I think tentpole action flicks can get a pass if done well enough) but Doctor Strange’s moment of clarity is rather weak. There’s a lesson for him, and he definitely struggles, but his turning point and growth appears off screen more than on it. There was an opportunity to visually show us this transformation from stubborn doctor who can’t get the magic to work to cruising through magical books, but it just doesn’t do it in an emotionally uplifting or interesting way. On top of this, he accomplishes much because of his mind, but also because he was the “chosen one” so to speak. That too is an element that doesn’t quite hit the mark and feels overused in movies these days.
The magic spells look great in the film.
See, what did I tell you.
The best of the best when it comes to this film is the special effects. Boy, did they deliver. I was expecting a lot of hand waving for spells and what not, but the spells look top notch with a hologram kind of feel that reflects color on the characters and goes with said hand motions. Simply put: You’ll see things in this film you’ve never seen before. When Strange enters the alternate dimensions it gets trippy real fast and in a variety of ways. Marvel probably realized if they made it colorful like a Grateful Dead poster people would get bored, so they do things with reflections, kaleidoscopes, and weird outer space scenes that deserve a good black light blowing your mind over and over. There’s also a fantastic action sequence using a rewind like effect that’s out of this world.
Yes, they pull this off!
Doctor Strange will titillate, excite, and make you believe there’s a whole new and refreshing place to explore inside the Marvel Universe. They’ve managed to pull off another origin story and the character feels like he belongs among all the others because he’s unique and part of a world you’ll want to see more of. Above all else, they’ve managed to make a visually striking film that stimulates the imagination in new ways for avid moviegoers.