Doctor Strange is directed by Scott Derrickson (who also wrote the screenplay) and sees Benedict Cumberbatch as the eponymous hero, Stephen Strange. The film follows the egotistical and arrogant Strange, the (self-proclaimed) best surgeon in the world. The story takes a bad turn (if you will pardon the pun) as Strange is involved in a huge car accident that leaves his hands ruined. Traveling East, he finds a mystical order who teach him much more than how to heal his hands. What follows is a well-paced visual spectacle where we watch Strange journey into the mystical world of the Ancient One and learn that his vast knowledge pales in comparison to hers.
From the off, we see that the film is very well cast. Benedict Cumberbatch leads the film skilfully, and inhabits Strange in a way we have come to expect from such a professional actor. The rest of the casting is stellar with Tilda Swinton’s turn as the Ancient One being particularly noteworthy. She is half the time stoic and all-knowing, while the other half being energetic and almost mischievous in her portrayal. There is also great chemistry between the actors which helps to further our immersion into the world of Stephen Strange.
The characters in Doctor Strange are handled very effectively and almost every character has a strong sense of purpose and direction. Strange himself develops from an egotist to a selfless hero in a slow and believable way. There is never any point in the film where he suddenly decides to be a hero; we see it slowly unfolding naturally within the narrative. The same goes for the supporting characters who, although we do not see the same level of development, are huge compliments to the film’s story. We have the Ancient One who is as powerful as she is mysterious, as well as Karl Mordo, who is a guide to Strange into the world of magic, but also has his own strong, almost zealot-like dedication to the Ancient One’s teachings.
The film’s main strength lies in its stunning visuals which are a real testament to how CGI can be done well. Using bright and colourful magic, we see whole cities twisted and bent to the will of the characters. The world becomes a visual playground as we witness constructions transforming into churning mechanical death traps and whole towering buildings resurrected from the ashes. There is an entire scene set in a mirror world in which both the heroes and villains use the city’s landscape as a weapon and what results is a chase scene that looks like it’s set on the Penrose staircase. Fun and playful while at the same time being mind-blowingly well directed, it is one of the best scenes in the film.
The main issue with the film is the same issue that plagues all MCU films; the forgettable villain. Mads Mikkelsen does well with the portrayal of Kaecillius, a rogue ex-student of the Ancient One, but we don’t see him enough to attach any real value. There are some interesting scenes where Strange and Kaecillius go up against each other but we feel no great polar opposition. Instead we are left with a lot of unfulfilled potential for a great villain to be the resistant force to Strange.
Overall, Doctor Strange is a visually stunning, fun and infinitely interesting addition to the MCU that opens the doors for so much more narrative expansion for all MCU films. Well acted, well written and well directed, Doctor Strange revitalises the comic book film as a genre and leaves nothing but huge potential to build on.
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