Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Tilda Swinton, and Mads Mikkelsen
What makes a good superhero? The kind of powers they possess? The kind of origin story they have? Perhaps how cool they look in their costume? Yes, all of these assist in making a good superhero, however a great personality can go a long way with these characters. Look no further than Tony “Iron Man” Stark, the charming genius with enough personality for ten different heroes. Adding Robert Downey Jr. as the actor tasked with bringing this personality to life could be one of the best casting choices of the decade.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is charging along, moving into the third phase of character and story implementation. The first phase began in 2008 with the first “Iron Man” film. We’ve seen standalone films, team films, human heroes, alien and mutant superheroes, and other dimensional superheroes. Now, with “Doctor Strange”, we have a mystic magical art superhero. More importantly we have another unique personality and the great casting choice of Benedict Cumberbatch.
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant, arrogant neurosurgeon with a perfect surgical record. For Dr. Strange it's less about saving lives and more about beating the odds. Dr. Strange walks and talks like a man invincible, until a car accident almost takes his life and renders the nerves in his hands disabled. Looking for any kind of hope for recovery, Dr. Strange travels across the globe to Nepal to find a Celtic guru known as The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) in hopes of being healed. Dr. Strange is introduced to the mystic arts and learns that logic no longer applies to the world that he knows.
The traditional journey of the hero that has categorized heroic tales in film is on full display here. The foolhardy, egotistical Dr. Strange falls and needs to build himself into something different, nothing particularly new with this story structure here. While this film brings emphasis to a different kind of Marvel universe, one with sorcerers and conjured spells, it also wisely allows enough room for the characters to develop. Obviously there are plans to keep this character around for a while. As with any origin story it's important to understand the protagonist, to have some kind of definition of the character so that as the character grows you can empathize with their journey. It's unfortunate that the same kind of time wasn't given to the overall story here. It doesn't help that "Doctor Strange" comes on the heels of some very strong Marvel properties, "Captain America: Civil War" and the Netflix series "Luke Cage". Still, even though it's been done hundreds of times in film, a good journey and character is the foundation for a quality film and franchise.
Director Scott Derrickson infuses so much visual flair into the film that you sometimes forget about the boring narrative design. This is one of the few films that I would advise watching in IMAX 3-D. The world, when the battles between good and evil start, are manipulated in extravagant ways; cities fold onto one another and roads venture in sharp angles in every direction. It’s confusing at times but the emphasis never moves from the characters in action, which adds a grounded element to everything that is going on.
It also helps that the film cast fan favorite Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role. Mr. Cumberbatch is perfect for the role with his smug demeanor and dry sense of humor. Rachel McAdams is also good as a working associate to Dr. Strange. Add to this the committed performances from Mads Mikkelsen, somewhat underutilized villain named Kaecillius, and Tilda Swinton, a entire movie could be made of her character, and the silly aspects in the narrative are easier to accept when such accomplished actors discuss time travel and multiple dimensions with such conviction.
The build up to the final showdown will display the issues with the story, it's just not that exciting or intriguing like other comic book films. Villains are usually given the indulgences and bravado not afforded to a hero, which makes them an interesting counterpart to the hero and builds a dynamic quality that makes the final battle exciting. This is where "Doctor Strange" is different from the pack because the heroic character here is consistently interesting. Look at the first "Iron Man" film, you had the fantastic talents of Jeff Bridges playing the big bad guy but that's not what you remember about the film, it's always about Tony Stark. "Doctor Strange" operates in the same way because the hero is provided with enough complexity and charisma to fill all the scenes, Dr. Strange is his own worst enemy. It's a battle that composes every scene, it makes Mads Mikkelsen's villain unnecessary. This is the overall success of "Doctor Strange", proving that personality goes a long way.
3.50 out of 5.00