With Doctor Strange, Marvel Studios show that they have mastered the art of taking risks while also playing it safe.
In terms of plot, Doctor Strange is nothing we haven't seen Marvel do before. In fact, it is pretty much a rehash of Iron Man. Turns out that Stephen Strange and Tony Stark share a lot more than just carefully crafted goatees. Like Tony before him, Strange starts out as a charismatic jackass whose genius is rivalled only by his arrogance, suffers life changing injuries that lead him to rethink many of his life choices, and eventually becomes a heroic charismatic jackass whose genius is rivalled only by his arrogance. So yeah, Doctor Strange tells a very familiar origin story, but it is one that Marvel has got so good at telling you kinda don't care that you've seen it all before.
What sets Doctor Strange apart from all the Marvel films that have come before it are its visuals. This is the first Marvel film to explore the mystical side of their fictional universe and director Scott Derrickson takes full advantage of that to bring the technicolor psychedelia of Steve Ditko's imagination bursting to life. Strange's initial journey into the other cosmic realms is the trippiest things I've seen on the big screen since Dave Bowman went beyond the infinite.
The film's various conjurers battle by using their magic to bend space and time, reshaping the reality around them like a kaleidoscope. Comparisons have been made to Inception, but Doctor Strange goes ten steps further and does a tap dance on M.C. Escher's head while playing the violin. And yet there is a nagging sense the film is holding back, wary of going all in on the Ditko psychedelia for fear it might scare away potential punters. This is disappointing, but understandable. Strange is one of those characters you have to be very careful with. Go too far with the weirdness and you risk ending up in Zardoz territory. And no one wants that.
At this point in his career, Benedict Cumberbatch has turned playing brilliant, charismatic jackasses into an art form. He is the perfect choice for a character like Strange, despite sounding like he got his accent in Hugh Laurie's yard sale. Tilda Swinton's inherent otherworldliness is also put to good use as the Ancient One, while Benedict Wong steals every scene he's in as Wong, the best librarian since Rupert Giles. Chiwetel Ejiofor's Mordo is a more complex and sympathetic character than his comic counterpart, who was just your typical power mad megalomaniac. He isn't given too much to do, but it is obvious he's been set up for bigger things in the inevitable sequel.
Sadly, Rachel McAdams and Mads Mikkelsen are both completely wasted as the bland female love interest and the underwritten villain. Are Marvel ever going to get those two right? Seriously, why continue to hire actors of this calibre if you are just going to waste them in thankless roles that any idiot with a SAG membership could do?
|Do you remember where we parked?|
--There was a Doctor Strange TV movie in the seventies starring Peter Hooten as Strange and John Mills as his mentor.
--In one of the best deviations from the source material, Strange's Cloak of Levitation is given a mind of its own and almost steals the whole film. Sorry, Edna Mode, but this is one hero who definitely needs his cape.
--Michael Giacchino's score is the best produced for a movie yet. His end credits theme is the intoxicating mix of Pink Floyd and John Barry.
--The film was a lot funnier than I expected, but the humour never once comes at the expense of the drama.
Christine: "Where have you been?"
Strange: "I went to Kathmandu, and I learned to tap into powers I never even knew existed."
Christine: "So you joined a cult?"
Kaecilius: "You'll die defending this world, Mister..."
Kaecilius: "Mister Doctor."
Strange: "It's Strange!"
Kaecilius: "Maybe, who am I to judge?"
Three out of four charismatic jackasses.
Mark Greig is a master of making things disappear, as long as they are made of chocolate. More Mark Greig.