Synopsis – A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts.
My Take – The superhero genre has entered a stage where it has become increasingly hard to tread new ground and appease the masses, who over the course of a decade or thereabouts have been treated to a large contingent of high quality and highly entertaining outings filled with capes, dastardly world destroying villains and star studded casts. But somehow, with this film being their 14th studio release, Marvel still stands tall in matters of quality, story telling & of course box office receipts. While characters such as Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Captain America have been known to the general public due to their popular/semi popular comic book presence, Marvel pulled off a feat by successfully introducing a bunch of obscure characters like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) & Ant-Man (2015), this year they are ought to reassure us that when it comes down to bringing life to virtually unknown origin stories in quite a spectacular fashion they are best in the business. Honestly, being a comic book fan, I had my apprehensions about how this fan favorite character would translate on to the screen, mainly due to the complexity of character and knack of being cheesy. For a 14th outing anyone would be wondering whether by now things had become rote, stale and all too predictable as the allotted characters slot into place. Plus, in a year with 5 superhero films released (Deadpool, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse & Suicide Squad), what makes this Scott Derrickson directed film any different? Why of course, with the presence of a clever screenplay, mind-melting action and mind-bending CGI, this weirdest and strangest addition to the ever expanding MCU is one of the most delightful, fresh & enjoyable experiences you will ever have in a cinema. Director Scott Derrickson’s film is very much an origin story that follows a well-trodden path and takes time to explore an origin story that the general public is not familiar with.
The story follows Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a successful, talented, arrogant neurosurgeon, who, due to major car accident, shatters almost every nerve in his hand and has to undergo several procedures in order to get better. Unable to accept that his career as a surgeon is over, Strange exhausts his resources while trying to regain full control of his hands and in the process, alienates the only person who still cared for him, colleague and ex-girl friend Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). Upon hearing about a miracle cure from a former patient, Jonathan (Benjamin Bratt), Strange travels to Kathmandu, Nepal in hopes of finding the sanctuary called Kamar-Taj. Run by the kind yet mysterious Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), Strange is introduced into a world of unexplainable wonders. Strange sets about mastering the mystic arts, guided along by the Ancient One’s disciple Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong), the keeper of Kamar-Taj’s sacred relics. Due to his overgrowing curiosity and willingness to learn, Strange finds out about Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former pupil who went rogue and is meddling with dark powers to summon the dark lord of a different dimension known as Dormamu. Trained and taught about the purpose he can serve, Strange must use his newfound abilities to defeat Kaecilius and his followers. A path that will change his life forever. Expand Your Mind. This tagline defines the film perfectly. This Marvel film takes us beyond our world and explores the many alternate dimensions, using phenomenal visuals to further expand the Cinematic Universe. In some ways this film feels secluded and disconnected from the MCU, yet it features the familiar wit and style of previous instalments. When it comes to the plot and characters of this film, well, to be fair it isn’t any different from the usual big films we get – we have our hero, our villain, mentor, love interest, sidekick, etc. It is a solid formula that Marvel holds onto and which has brought us an unstoppable Cinematic Universe train where you can’t call even the worst entries entirely awful. So as to be expected, the film has a solid and straight spine in its back which keeps you grounded after an insane kaleidoscopic trip through New York. But this Marvel formula is not perfect – once in a while it brings us jokes and quips at inappropriate times which can bring you out of an emotional or otherwise intense scene. Of course, we can always argue that it’s a colorful comic book film that shouldn’t be taken seriously. While the plot was kept solid and grounded by the already formulaic Marvel style, the meat around it was just something surreal. Right from the get-go the prologue gives you a taste of what’s to come and every time mystic artistry is done by one of the characters, it manages to even top the previously seen psychedelic imagery. It’s satisfying to experience something so vastly different to what we’ve seen before with such an incredible array of color and critique. The history feels real, the set pieces and locations feel real, and most importantly, the characters feel real. This film is so refreshingly short and sweet, allowing for a more immersive experience, without any feeling of painstaking pacing issues. Things move along nicely and the screenplay by Jon Spaihts, C. Robert Cargill and Derrickson is witty without being smug. Just as Deadpool was a standard-issue origin story dressed with self-referential irreverence and attitude, the film is a standard-issue origin story spiced up with logic-defying dazzlement. Being a film about a sorcerer, it relies heavily upon its VFX to create a believable world for its characters. And in this department, the film delivers with beautiful results. It’s tough to make an entirely new world, and it’s even tougher to make it seem as though it’s part of the real world.
The trailer, with its origami folding cities, had me worried that the imagery would be too similar to that of Inception. It turns out that the trippiest stuff has been saved for the film itself, with kaleidoscopic vistas, Doctor Who-style tunnels through space-time, buildings morphing and shifting like Dark City on steroids, and ghostly Astral projections floating between this plane and the next among the tricks up its sleeves. The mind-bending geometry gives the action sequences a delightfully unpredictable landscape in which to play out. Calling to mind the success of Marvel‘s huge breakthrough Iron Man from 2008, with the film bearing more than a small resemblance to the origin story of a one Tony Stark (arrogance and wise cracking included), the film excels off the back of Benedict Cumberbatch‘s impressive turn as the wonder-doctor and supported by the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong and the sadly underused Rachel McAdams. Like with his Sherlock, Cumberbatch‘s Stephen is not someone you are immediately meant to like. He does have a fondness/vast knowledge of music, and he can toss out a quip or two, but on the whole he’s kind of a jerk. However, what separates him from certain other jerky MCU characters is that his cockiness makes sense given how skilled a surgeon he is, and his stubbornness almost ruins his relationship with Christine, but he goes on a character journey that teaches him humility, patience and to think of others instead of himself. We already know Cumberbatch can play an egotistical jerk to perfection (a character he plays in almost everything he does), but throughout the course of the film his Stephen actually manages to become more likable (more so than his Sherlock is) and he learns about self-sacrifice (his solution for defeating the film’s ‘big bad’, Dormammu, is quite ingenious). Aiding him in becoming a sorcerer and losing that arrogance is Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. Her performance seems so effortless, playing this ancient being. She gives off this serene vibe, always so calm and at times frustratingly so (for Stephen especially), but there’s more to her than is first presented. She and Cumberbatch play well off each other, sharing some memorable scenes. Continuing with their problem of wasted villain, the purple eyed Kaecilius, despite the presence of esteemed actor Mads Mikkelsen (who sadly has become a bit of a villain typecast in recent years), who wants nothing more than to meet a world destroying entity is anything but the adversary the unique sorcerer deserved. Even his lackey played by martial arts expert Scott Adkins gets to shine in a single scene only. Director Scott Derrickson allows his cast to work their skills into the film while the director himself, who once seemed an odd choice due to his horror films background (Both Sinister films, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Deliver Us from Evil) showcases a talent for the imaginative that makes you hope he too will return for the next installment in this magic infused universe. On the whole, ‘Doctor Strange’ is a stupendous, visually spellbinding, hilarious, brilliantly acted manipulative cognitive story that may be one of the strangest and most enjoyable addition to the ever shining MCU. Make sure you watch this film in 3D!
Directed – Scott Derrickson
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 115 minutes