Doctor Strange (2016)
The mystical and surreal can sometimes be a tough pill for a general audience to swallow. Following the staunchly more realistic Captain America: Civil War, we now take a sharp turn to the magical realm of Doctor Strange, with generally positive results.
Involved in a car accident which renders his hands useless, surgeon Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) travels to Kathmandu in search of an alternative medicine to cure him. When he finally meets the Ancient One (Swinton), he learns that there is more to the world that he originally believed.
On the surface, there is seemingly nothing original about this movie, particularly in reference to the MCU. Strange is an arrogant, wealthy genius (sound familiar?), who pushes people away with his abrasive nature. His colleague and ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer (McAdams) is put-upon, having to deal with his high-maintenance tendencies, whilst his fellow surgeons, especially Nicodemus West (Stuhlbarg) are undermined.
So far, so very Iron Man. Yet this movie has somewhat of an ace up its sleeve in originality. As generic as this movie is in its story, it’s stunning visually, as Strange travels through astral planes, Dark Dimensions and mirror universes, creating plenty of eye-candy for the viewers. It’s trippy as hell, and its colourful palette is relishing as opposed to headache inducing.
Because of these visuals, the action is also incredibly inventive. The movie doesn’t waste time, instead throwing us into the deep end; the film opens with the Ancient One up against zealot Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) as buildings fold in on themselves and weapons of light are created, whilst a mid-film bust up focuses on the entirety of New York out of place. Yet it’s the third act set piece that really stuns. As the destruction has already happened, Strange uses his magic to rewind time, and the fight plays out in reverse. It’s a smart way to make something we’ve seen a hundred times seem fresh.
And that’s not the only thing. Kaecilius may be another generic villain, hell-bent on obtaining eternal life, and the characters may scuffle from time to time, but the fight is not with him, but the demon he worships, Dormammu (voiced by Cumberbatch). Instead of two people smashing each other into oblivion, Strange combats him with a simple negotiation, and it makes much more of an impact that CGI carnage ever could.
Unfortunately, the more inventive aspects of the film are somewhat downplayed by a heavy script. When Strange arrives in Kathmandu, we are greeted with scene after scene of exposition, along with a training montage. Swinton and Ejiofor, as fellow sorcerer/trainer Mordo are incredibly talented actors, and could probably recite the phone book (should you know what one of those is), but it is far too difficult to glimpse character when all they can give are explanations on various dimensions.
This also leads to problems with some of the members of the cast. McAdams is given little to nothing to do, and is there to initially create conflict with Strange. You do not, nor should not, cast someone as talented as she is and not give her anything to, and, in fact, she disappears for half of the movie as Strange leaves New York. The same goes with Stuhlbarg, an underappreciated actor, who may be in about five minutes of the movie.
Cumberbatch is a good Doctor Strange, but I can’t help but feel a little uninspired by his casting. It feels safe; he is a terrific actor, for sure, and he looks the part, but he almost sleepwalks through the role, and lacks the warmth that Strange needs later on – not to mention a difficult to adapt to American accent, something which does get better over time.
Overall, it’s a very enjoyable movie. If not for the stunning visuals and inventive action, it could be largely forgettable – and to be honest, if you were to forget it, I wouldn’t blame you.