NOTE: While every effort has been taken to avoid spoilers in this review, everyone has a different level of spoiler tolerance, so if you are particularly “spoilerphobic”, read on at your own risk.
And it’s that time, once again, to review the latest entry into the ever-growing cinematic juggernaut that is the Marvel Universe. Now into the 3rd “phase” of the story, the Marvel Universe has been populated with super-soldiers, radioactive rage beasts, the Nordic God of Thunder and, of course, a sentient space tree. But if you thought that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was already as weird as it could possibly get, Doctor Strange has arrived to introduce a mystic society of sorcerers whose job is to protect the Earth from any and all threats that have the audacity to arrive via an entirely different dimension.
And despite adding so many bizarre elements that Star Wars now looks like a documentary in comparison, somehow Disney and Marvel have teamed up to make this thing work, again. It may not be Marvel’s best, but it’s still a damn good movie.
The movie is an origin story for Stephen Strange, a brilliant but highly arrogant neurosurgeon. When Strange gets into a car accident, his hands become paralyzed and he is forced to give up his work. Nonetheless, the stubborn doctor travels the world looking for a cure for his paralysis, in order to return to his glory days. It is on this search that he encounters a group of mystics in Kathmandu, led by a mysterious figure known as The Ancient One. Doctor Strange trains with the mystics in the hope that the powers he learns can heal him, but when a former student Kaecilius summons an evil spirit in exchange for promises of immortality, Strange is forced to put aside his own ego and join his fellow sorcerers in a battle to save the Earth from oblivion.
There are far more positives than there are negatives to this movie, so we’ll start by looking at the good stuff. The casting for this movie is excellent, led by the choice to cast Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. I’m going to stick my hand up on this one, when the casting rumours were circulating around this role, I didn’t really want Cumberbatch to get it. Nothing against the actor himself, I love Sherlock, he was potentially the best part of the Hobbit trilogy as Smaug, and he’s a damn fine actor. But one of the other names that was circulating for the position was Joaquin Phoenix, who I thought was the perfect choice.
I was wrong. Now I’ve seen the film, I know exactly why Marvel and director Scott Derrickson were so keen to get Cumberbatch that they changed the entire production schedule to suit him. This could be the best fit for Cumberbatch’s talent of his entire career – a big call for the man who was seemingly born to be Sherlock Holmes.
Pictured: A much better Sherlock Holmes than that horrible Robert Downey Jr one.
The rest of the cast is fantastic too. Tilda Swinton is a stand-out as the Ancient One, as was Benedict Wong in the role of Wong. Rachel McAdams and Chiwetel Ejiofor both didn’t completely reach their own potentials, but both seem well set up for future installments, and Mads Mikkelsen’s role as Kaecilius was perfectly creepy. Kaecilius himself is far from the worst of the Marvel villains – one area that the series of films has struggled in the past. Sure, he’s no Loki, but the character is well-realized and used well enough, unlike some duds like Ronan the Accuser (Guardians of the Galaxy).
Also truly remarkable in this movie is the visual effects, with the movie now overtaking The Jungle Book as the best looking movie of 2016. The film mixes imagery reminiscent of Inception with the sort of bright, vivid colour palette and creative design that Zack Snyder is allergic to. I don’t say this very often, as I feel like it’s usually a gimmick, but this is a movie that demands to be seen in 3D, and it’s worth the additional ticket price. Also a positive is the humour in the movie, which is subtle and doesn’t dominate the movie, but it is definitely there and it has that Marvel brand of humour that has worked so well. A comedic highlight that I will touch on without too much detail is Doctor Strange’s iconic red cape, which proves to be the funniest piece of fabric to appear on screen since the magic carpet in Aladdin.
“NO CAP-” Not this time Edna… you’ll ruin all the fun!
There are some negatives, as well, sadly, and I must touch on them. The pacing early in the movie was of particular concern to me. The film steadied as we got into the main meat of the movie, but the early scenes seemed to jump ahead at a rapid pace – as if the filmmakers had a roast in the oven and wanted to wrap all the scenes quickly so they could deal with that. Also, the overall plot is reasonably simple, with most of the enjoyment coming from the set pieces, the visuals and the characters more than the story. I can see why they would choose something simple like that – there’s enough to get your head around with this story without worrying about a complex plot. But it’s still a slight let down that the story is so formulaic.
Overall, I have this listed as a very good Marvel movie. I know people like lists, and rankings and what not, so here’s my list of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies in order of best to worst, for context:
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Captain America: Winter Soldier
- Captain America: Civil War
- The Avengers
- Iron Man
- Doctor Strange
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- Iron Man 3
- The Incredible Hulk
- Thor: The Dark World
- Iron Man 2
This new film is leaps and bounds ahead of every film below it on the list, but doesn’t quite reach the heights of the 5 films above it.
4.5/5 – A solid introduction to a very Strange part of the Marvel Universe, and I look forward to seeing more.
P.S. There’s 2 post-credits scenes in this movie. Don’t leave after the first one, Marvel fans!