By Karl-Erik Mills, Staff Writer and Videographer
//Doctor Strange is the 14th installment into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and marks the second film of phase 3 of Marvel films, following May’s Captain America: Civil War. Phase 3 of MCU films marks a large turn for the universe, as it attempts to reshape the precedent established in earlier films. The Avengers are now split and the presence of the infinity stones is becoming progressively more important.
It is here that we meet Doctor Strange. In the beginning of the film, he is a brilliant, successful and arrogant neurosurgeon living in New York, who really sees himself as the center of the universe. The viewer immediately gets a sense of his character from a comical yet tense surgery scene in which Strange extracts a bullet from a man’s head. The story takes a quick turn as he gets in a nearly fatal car accident, and suffers severe nerve damage in his hands. His arrogance gets the better of him as he spends his last dollars desperately searching for a treatment for his hands that will allow him to get back to work. He is ultimately lead to Kathmandu, and finds a temple that boasts a more spiritual cure. From here, Strange is taught the mystical arts in order to combat an ominous force that threatens the reality of the world as we know it.
The story follows the usual Marvel beats: it starts with an introduction to its under-developed villain, then shows you the hero in one state of mind who, after a profound experience, must transition into another state of mind in order to save the world. For the most part, Doctor Strange’s story feels like a retread of old ground, but the rest of the film delivers something wholly original, profound, and psychedelic.
The characters work well in the context of the film. Benedict Cumberbatch knocks it out of the park as Strange and brings a dramatic, theatre-esk performing style that allows him to show the wonder involved in being a superhero.
Alongside Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor brings life to his supporting role as Karl Mordo. His scenes with Cumberbatch are delightfully competitive and manage to always end in tears for Ejiofor. In a way, this hurts his character, as he becomes very dramatic very quickly, and his character’s evolution feels abrupt and under-developed.
Mads Mikkelsen is terrific, as always, as the film’s primary villain, but receives very little screen time and characterization. Regardless he plays the role of the antagonist very well and his motivations are clear and surprisingly compelling, which adds a level of doubt in Strange during their encounters that is very human.
Tilda Swinton and Benedict Wong are standouts in the supporting cast and steal several of the best comedic moments. Rachel McAdams joins the MCU as Strange’s on again-off again romantic interest as well, but isn’t given much character, and mostly just reacts to her surroundings.
The only real criticism for Doctor Strange is how it breaks from the aforementioned Marvel origin story template, which sabotages the pacing of the film. It is compelling from start to finish but never feels like it has a clear middle and end. The action set pieces are only spliced up with scenes of heavy exposition and explaining. This could be a result of the differing time periods of the story. The beginning spans a long time, whilst the other two thirds of the movie are over a very short time period. This could also be a result of Director Scott Derrickson’s experience in horror filmmaking, which is usually a fairly constant sequence of thrills.
The action throughout the movie is certainly thrilling at that, as with the rest of the film. This is due to the gloriously stunning visual effects. From the opening scene, in which buildings begin to fold in on themselves and portals open to distant locations, the viewer is entranced by the psychedelic ride they are taken on. This is especially evident when Strange is introduced to the other dimensions and realities that exist in the universe. He flies through space and time in a trippy and mind-bending scene which is reminiscent of the phantom ride from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The action scenes are elevated by the inclusion of folding streets and flying fire escapes that inspire true awe in the moviegoer. A whole other dimension is added (literally) to the climax of the film, which is visually fantastic and brings originality to otherwise static action.
Praise goes to Scott Derrickson for his Direction. The way he handles the choreography and surroundings creates a hectic and visceral climate for the conclusion of the film. His horror style lends itself expertly and creates many chilling images throughout the movie. The scale of the world he took on is evident in every scene and it adds a feeling of originality and appreciation on the part of the Director that has been missing from previous Marvel films.
Overall, Doctor Strange is a welcome addition to the MCU. It follows similar story beats to its predecessors but ultimately diverges into its own visual style. The characters are entertaining and even compelling, and they interact excellently with the visual spectacle around them. It is by no means the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It doesn’t take the narrative risks of hits like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or Guardians of the Galaxy, but it introduces a new style of action and a new perception of reality that will, without a doubt, keep the franchise going.