‘Doctor Strange‘ is the latest caped crusader to venture forth from ‘Marvel Studios‘. Most of the magic may be pixel-powered, but it still proves family-fun…
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an exceptionally talented surgeon but one whose arrogance sometimes doesn’t help with his relationships. He’s not a bad man, merely one aware of his own gifts and their value… everything else seems less important. But on a mountain road those gifts are about to be taken from him when he’s involved in a car-crash that shatters his hands. No longer able to have the career on which he built his life he ploughs his fortune into looking for a cure, none of which do much good. Finally, after speaking to a man who underwent his own amazing rejuvenation of body and spirit, he heads to Kathmandu in search of a solution.
What he finds there isn’t what he expected. A woman known only as ‘The Ancient One’ (Tilda Swinton) initially fails to entertain his pleas for help, despite detecting some promise in his passion. When he finally convinces her to take him in, it’s the start of an extraordinary journey and an eye-opening visit to a wider, bigger universe in which Strange’s body may not be healed as fast as his spirit.
But even if this place of magic and wonder, there are dangers and enemies who want that power and Strange is about to find that he’s placed himself in the middle of a conflict the world knows little about…
Marvel can rest comfortably in the knowledge that their latest move in their cinematic universe shows every sign of continuing their successful path to cinematic dominance. It’s family-friendly, visually enticing and with a decent enough story that entertains for its two-hour running time.. all of which helps those box-office receipts turn over. The only problem is that all of those factors feel a little predictable… they are well-executed and pretty but just a little too familiar. It’s super and streamlined, but those edges are smooth rather than… edgy.
While the actors are clearly doing their thing, it IS a film that would be utterly lost without the reality-bending aspect of the visuals. Where Christopher Nolan’s Inception fatally misunderstood the difference between dreamscapes and clinical, cold virtual-reality, Doctor Strange swishes along a similar path but injects it with far more gusto and sense of colour and adventure. The buildings fold and warp in a similar way, but a mixture of the fantastical and the source material makes it more enjoyable, even when it threatens to tip-over into ‘Look what we can do with computers now!‘ The most telling thing about Doctor Strange is that while you’re sitting in the cinema waiting for one of the two ‘credit’ scenes’, you can’t help but notice the number of Visual Effects credits that dominate that list. Arguably they make up three-quarters of the names on display, echoing the screen-time they’ve been given in the last two hours. But that selfsame fact is also the best reason to catch it in 3D. Many films suffer by using the format as a crutch or gimmick, but in the case of this latest Marvel movie it’s almost a necessity if you want the full-on experience.
Cumberbatch (complete with an American accent which may have you off-balance) is as good as you’d expect with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo as a worthy brother in arms. Mads Mikkelsen as bad-guy Kaeciliusis is effective but underwritten and the usually interesting Rachel McAdams as Strange’s ex and fellow surgeon has paper-thin characterisation. The casting that got most people talking in advance was in Tilda Swinton, a white westerner playing the male Asian role of The Ancient Role. Having a woman in the role changes little – it’s something of an androgynous role that makes her look like an older version of The Last Airbender – and she acquits herself well enough. But there IS a solid argument to be made that it’s just another key Asian role going to a westerner when better, truer casting was more appropriate. Given that one of the trailers accompanying the film shows Matt Damon in Chinese actioner The Great Wall it merely underlines the lack of confidence Hollywood still seems to have in ethnic diversity in its films.chakra
The fight choreography is largely enhanced by the effects and what is going on in the gravity-defying background, but there are a number of impressive scenes that at least show some good planning: such as Scott Adkins’ henchman Lucien going fist to fist and chakra-to-chakra with our hero in style. There are undoubtedly ‘joins’ with the CGI, but they are sewn together well enough for action fans to be impressed.
In short, Doctor Strange doesn’t disappoint, it just plays to its strengths and sometimes feels as if it’s coasting on those qualities that it has so carefully assembled for its familiar blue-print. It’s still a winner, both in financial terms and in fun.
Doctor Strange is out in cinemas now.