By Andrew Haas
I’ve always been a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, not all their films or shows hit the mark, but I have yet to see something they’ve made that hasn’t have something really good about it. I’m always curious when Marvel decides to adapt some of their lesser known properties. Not that Doctor Strange is an obscure character, but few know about him outside of him being the hero with magic. When popular British actor Benedict Cumberbatch was chosen to play the lead, I got excited. While the result is another fun MCU film, the visual experience makes Doctor Strange feel like so much more.
Dr. Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is a brilliant neurosurgeon who damages his hands in a car accident. Out of options, he seeks the Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton, who teaches him the art of being a sorcerer. But as he learns new magic abilities, a group of rogue former students threaten to bring a great evil to the world and Strange must help in stopping them.
Marvel once again has a great cast on its hands. Cumberbatch is fantastic as Doctor Strange. He’s an egotistical but charming lead who has his cold moments, but has a good heart, as all he wants is to save lives. He may seem similar to Tony Stark, but the performance does give him a different edge. Despite the controversy surrounding her casting, (which they subtly poke fun at in the film), Swinton does a great job as the Ancient One. I look at her and I feel there’s something wise and mystical about her. Mads Mikkelsen does his best with the role of Kaecilius, but he doesn’t save the character from being yet another generic villain. Everyone else, including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, and Rachel McAdams, give fine performances and work off Cumberbatch in their own different ways.
The one thing everyone is going to be talking about is the visuals, and for good reason. When characters travel through dimensions, Doctor Strange gives us some of the most imaginative and somewhat trippy imagery I’ve seen in an action movie. It is like a mix of the sub-atomic scene from Ant-Man and the dream scenes from Inception; it’s a spectacle of kaleidoscope-esque wonder. On top of that, the action becomes just as creative when characters are running and fighting as reality and gravity changes around them. I saw this film in IMAX 3D, and it made the experience even better. This is one of the few times where 3D has actually been used to the film’s advantage.
The story itself is refreshingly allowed to stand on its own with only a couple Marvel quick references dropped here and there. However, like the villain, it does fall into some of the trappings of the studio’s formula. This isn’t too much of a problem, as the film throws a few different spins on some of these tropes and the usual MCU humor is still solid, but it doesn’t help, as audiences are starting to see the formula as all but stale. The writing also has some pacing and exposition issues. Some aspects of Strange’s training feel too quick and he seems to always need lectures on the world and conflict in the plot. To be fair, I never got bored with the explanations; the cast is talented enough to make them engaging, and they’re balanced by the action and light-hearted moments.
Doctor Strange may not be the greatest film in the MCU, but it’s still a good stand-alone addition and a trip that has to be seen to be believed. The characters are great, the action is solid, and the visuals are breathtaking. While the writing can be formulaic and the exposition heavy at times, it’s still a nice origin story for Marvel’s great sorcerer. For those who aren’t fans of Marvel or are getting sick of the formula, this isn’t going to change your mind. For everyone else, I say Doctor Strange is worth checking out and if you have the extra money for 3D or IMAX 3D, I highly recommend seeing it in one of those formats.