Magic, sorcery and contortion of time and space — this is all so new for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s part of Doctor Strange’s charm: It doesn’t feel too much like previous Marvel iterations in spots, but then we’re reminded most of the story is a generic superhero origin plot.
Which isn’t entirely horrible.
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an egotistical surgeon who takes on flashy operations and gets paid the big bucks. The good doctor and Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), who assists him in surgeries, display their on-screen chemistry early as Strange is thrown into an operation to save a man’s life. This is a man who had been incorrectly pronounced brain dead by Dr. Nicodemus West (Michael Stuhlbarg), a fellow doctor who seems to rub Strange the wrong way.
It was a pleasure to see Cumberbatch and McAdams work together on-screen. There’s the smart-ass dialogue of the former that pairs well with the strong attitude of the latter. Their interactions are some of the highlights of Doctor Strange, but at times during their back-and-forth, I can hear Cumberbatch’s accent slip ever-so slightly. Dang it, fix that, Benedict! Or don’t and continue swooning most audience members.
This may just have been a spur-of-the-moment observation as I sat in the theater, but during a moment in the film where Palmer and Strange continue to poke fun st each other, it reminded me of a similar relationship: Thor and Jane Foster. It’s almost as Marvel Studios learned from their previous failures and delivered on a smarter, more well-rounded relationship with McAdams and Cumberbatch.
After the initial scene, we get a small glimpse into Strange’s high-profile lifestyle, filled with a quick cut to his drawer full of rotating watches ripe for the picking. Of course, it plays to another character in the MCU who started off with everything and felt invincible (ahem Iron Man ahem).
There’s an interesting conflict developed thereafter by director Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Day the Earth Stood Still). It’s quite surprising that a director notorious for horror was given the reigns of a Marvel film. However, it worked, and the darker tones of Doctor Strange benefitted.
The story became predictable once our doctor traveled east to the village of Kamar-Taj after struggling to find Western medicine suitable for his near impossible recovery. This is the film’s biggest flaw: It strayed from the Marvel formula in some moments while failing to make itself unique in others. The progression is methodical at this rate for the MCU’s superhero origin films: Strange has everything, nearly dies, losses it all, only to find there’s a bigger evil than the internal demons he faces.
Although, there’s enough of a supporting cast here to make the ride enjoyable. Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One) gave the best performance of the film, the other Benedict, Benedict Wong (Wong) gave a fun performance, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s role (Mordo) was safe, but good enough, and then there’s the curious case of Mads Mikkelsen’s role as Kaecilius.
Oh, Marvel villains — why must your screenwriters continue to give you trivial roles? Besides the unique use of bending time and space, Kaecilius is written as yet another generic baddie. Please, spare me the clichés, Jon Spaihts and C. Rober Cargill (screenwriters). Viewers were able to see the fate of Kaecilius and his cult coming from miles away.
Another problem that surfaced from the writing is the millennial-driven humor. Ugh, I sighed and grunted at the Adele and Beyoncé jokes back-to-back. I was upset Spaihts, Cargill and Derrickson chose to go for the cheap jokes rather than stick to some of the better forms of humor found in other areas of the film.
But, those negatives were quickly washed away once the film ponies up the action. Doctor Strange’s first combat sequence is spectacular. Kaecilius takes on Strange, and it left my jaw hinged wide open. Derrickson played with unique angles during combat scenes that didn’t leave me with a headache, but the mesmerizing visual effects as time and space were bent became the most impressive moments of this film. These visuals were the best among any MCU film to date, and Doctor Strange was better because of them.
The film’s pacing was handled well, and it functioned without much of a hitch within its one hour and 55 minute runtime.
I think there’s enough highs in spite of its lows to make it a fun, upper-tier MCU film. Take away Marvel Studios’ tag, and the film can be a player on its own without needing the Avengers’ help.
But I wish they did away with the heavy-handed humor. Gosh, Beyo- I mean, Wong!
I attended a 3D IMAX screening of Doctor Strange thanks to Sly Fox.