Fourteen movies in and the Marvel Cinematic Universe have, yet again, found a way to surprise. Their latest feature, Doctor Strange, delivers mind-blowing visuals, excellent action, a fantastic original score, and Benedict Cumberbatch at his very, very best; the Englishman establishes himself as the heir-apparent to Robert Downey Jr.’s throne atop the Marvel movie mountain.
Doctor Strange tells the story of Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a neuro-surgeon who searches for a method of recovery after losing the ability to do his work following a car accident. Along the way he is taught the mystic arts by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and tasked with stopping Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) from unleashing the dark dimension.
With director Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Day The Earth Stood Still) at the helm, and with visual effects produced by Industrial Light and Magic, Doctor Strange stands alone as the most visually mind-blowing film so far seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From the reality warping set pieces in London and New York, to the time altering final fight sequence in Hong Kong, Doctor Strange takes superhero fight sequences to a whole other level. In fact, the London fight sequence, which kicks the whole film off, is arguably the best opening scene to a Marvel movie ever.
All of this is compounded by a magnificent score which compliments the visuals to a tee. Michael Giacchino (Star Trek Beyond, Inside Out, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) more than lives up to his moniker as one of the finest Hollywood composers since the great John Williams with a score which is as epic and enchanting as the visuals that the score is punctuating.
Of course, every superhero movie is only as good as the hero itself. Fortunately, Benedict Cumberbatch brings his A-game to this one. As the titular hero, Cumberbatch delivers the signature quippy banter which Marvel has become famous for. Portraying Strange as the arrogant, narcissistic loner who is the best at what he does, Cumberbatch puts the character on a level playing field with the best the rest of the MCU has to offer.
However, for as good as Cumberbatch is, he is not the standout performer. That honour goes to Tilda Swinton as Stephen Strange’s mentor, the Ancient One. When news initially broke of her casting in that role, there were controversial calls that the film was whitewashing the character. However, after watching her performance, those fears need not persist. Her performance is fantastic as a complex character who has to break her own rules to maintain order within the multiverse. The character never appears as a stereo type and is instead one of the standouts.
Unfortunately, the film is not without its problems. Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius feels somewhat wasted as a character that ultimately serves as a stepping stone toward the closing confrontation. Rachel McAdams is also rather wasted as Christine Palmer, although her interactions with Cumberbatch are very entertaining (the scene with our hero’s astral-body in particular).
As well as that, as much as I have been swooning over the visuals in the film, there are instances of rag-doll mechanics which looks as ridiculous as it sounds. Thankfully, those lapses in special effects do not take away from the film as a whole, and aren’t as distracting as similar mechanics were in The Matrix Reloaded.
Overall, Doctor Strange is a fantastic entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is the most visually appealing of any Marvel film, and has action set pieces to match, despite not being as good as the Captain America films. It also breaks new ground in music in the MCU and sets up Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) as an incredibly complex antagonist in future Marvel films. More than any of that though is that Doctor Strange feels like a true standalone film within a universe that has bogged down a few movies with the need to interconnect, all the while feeling perfectly at home within the MCU. While it may not be as good as the likes of Captain America Civil War or Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it is a unique and exciting addition to the Marvel empire.
Have you seen Doctor Strange? What did you make of it? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Doctor Strange is in cinemas from October 25
Andrew Thomas Ryan