Though it sticks within the compounds of “comic-book movie storytelling 101”, director Scott Derrickson (‘Sinister’, ‘Deliver Us From Evil’) juggles this convention with imaginative action sequences and mesmerising visual effects to deliver a Marvel movie that soars above the familiarity that has been so present in the ‘Avenger’ universe thus far.
Other worldly dimensions and parallel universes abound throughout ‘Doctor Strange’, and right from the opening scene it’s evident that this is a film both strange by name and by nature. Cityscapes twist and turn to a kaleidoscopic degree (Christopher Nolan ala ‘Inception’ would be proud) in a foretelling of what’s to come before we meet the titular surgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) whose unmatched arrogance has secured his success as a medical professional but wilted his prospects with fed-up on-again/off-again girlfriend Christine (the always charming Rachel McAdams).
Given that his hands are his instruments it’s with both pain and frustration that he comes to potentially face a future without their functional use when he severs them in a shock car accident that leaves him on the brink of death. Incapable of even the simplest of actions, Strange retreats to a monastery of sorts in Kathmandu, searching for answers on how he can heal himself. It’s in a commanding oracle known as The Ancient One (a sleek, bald-headed Tilda Swinton) that Strange may find his answers, and through her teachings of harnessing the ability to manipulate space and time he learns to take his ego out of the equation and accept that mind over matter has infinite possibilities; the hallucinogenic sequences where she previews what he is potentially capable of are both visually outstanding and highly amusing.
As is the case with most Marvel productions ‘Doctor Strange’ is stacked aplenty with proven talent, all of whom elevate the rather ridiculous material to a level that allows even the most absurd of dialogue to be performed with gravitas. Cumberbatch makes for a perfect addition to the unlikely hero mould Marvel have so successfully built their cinematic reputation off (see Robert Downey, Jr’s vain Tony Stark or Paul Rudd’s crim-light Ant-Man for proof) and McAdams manages to take her empty-on-paper girlfriend role and transform it into something of a fully-realised character, but it’s Swinton who emerges as the film’s most memorable player; quite fitting for a film that features the word ‘strange’ in the title.
As it visually bends itself towards a spectacle-heavy finale, the film announces itself as yet another Marvel entrant that refuses to take itself too seriously. There’s shades of appreciated light amongst its heavy-set action, and this only further confirms the studio’s ability to master the genre in a way DC are still trying their best to figure out. As always there’s a post-credit sequence that links into another Marvel title (I won’t do the injustice of spoiling just who pops up for a welcome cameo) but if you’re truly investing yourself in this universe, stick around until the very end where the inevitable ‘Doctor Strange’ sequel gets its first look-in.
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwitel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Benjamin Bratt, Benedict Wong
Classification: M (Fantasy Themes and Violence)
Review by Peter Gray
My rating: 4/5