I was pretty slow off the mark getting to see Doctor Strange in the cinemas, events conspiring against me. But having finally gotten to the cinema, yesterday, am now adding my thoughts on this latest inclusion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I should manage to avoid any significant spoilers, though there are few that I would think could genuinely spoil the experience. Though there are some who are more sensitive than I in that regard, so with that in mind, proceed at your own risk.
Doctor Strange is an origin story. Many superhero movie watchers are a bit tired of origin stories. However, given that Doctor Strange lacks the general familiarity as characters like Batman or Iron Man, I think that this is acceptable.
Doctor Strange has enjoyed a better than expected run at the box office, at least in early weeks. I imagine this is driven by the presence of Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular character. Indeed Cumberbatch manages a strong performance. As an Australian, I lack the sensitivity to critique the British actor’s American accent. It worked okay for me.
Doctor Stephen Strange begins in his origin story as an arrogant, self centred, brilliant, individual. Given his run on Sherlock, that was hardly a stretch for Cumberbatch who fit the role like a glove.
In fact, I will state outright that the performances of all the key characters were of excellent quality. Controversy raised its head when Tilda Swinton was cast in the mentor role of The Ancient One, under headings of ‘whitewashing’. The Ancient One being a character that in the source comic book material was born in the Himilayas. I can empathise with minority actors struggling to find roles, let alone roles that are not themselves sterotypical. At the same time, Tilda Swinton is one of those remarkable actors with a filmography including such an incredibly varied range of roles that were she announced to play the lead role in a biopic on the life of Barack Obama, I would be equal parts confused by the casting as I would be intrigued to see what she would do with the role.
Rachel McAdams joins the cast as the love interest for Doctor Steven Strange. Her character was played well, though her character’s reactions to some of the situations in which she is placed was perhaps a bit too accepting. Still, I would prefer that than a hysterical female character screaming every time some she encounters some of the magic that becomes ubiquitous as the movie progresses. Her character is, unfortunately, largely only used to drive dialogue with Strange who otherwise avoids opening up to anyone.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, a magnificent orator and often underrated actor, works brilliantly with Cumberbatch. Saying no more here.
Benedict Wong, playing the character of Wong, is also excellent. Though there is one scene with some laughter that feels more than a little forced that didn’t quite work for me. I will talk more to that shortly. Otherwise a near perfect casting and performance.
Finally, Mads Mikkelsen creates a villain that will rate as one of the better Marvel villains. An aspect of the MCU that I have been critical of previously. Apart from Loki, many of the MCU antagonists have been poorly used to the point of being disposable. As an actor, he has an extensive filmography, but my initial reaction to his casting was tentative. He has rewarded those that put their faith in him in remarkable fashion.
On to the film itself. The character of Doctor Strange is a comic book character based in magic. One of the things that most impressed me with the film is that magic was never used purely as a duex ex machina. Rather, the film took time to develop a form of logic to how and why magic can and cannot be used in certain circumstances. Creating sets of rules and explanations that while fantastic, managed to ground magical mechanics that could easily have simply fallen into funny hand waves and latin words creating convenient effects. In this regard, the MCU did exceptionally well in the way they explored their world of magic. Building on the concept introduced in Thor that magic is merely new forms of science that humans have yet to understand.
Visually, Doctor Strange is spectacular, to the point of being overwhelming. With an opening scene demonstrating special effects that I will broadly describe as something like what you might expect to see if you got the SFX guys from Inception and force fed them amphetamines (you can get an idea of what I mean just from the trailers). In a couple of places throughout the movie, the effects dialed up by a few degrees. They WILL be too much for some viewers. Eyesight that has begun to deteriorate (I began wearing prescription glasses last year) combined with poor previous experiences in 3D movies prompted me not to see the film in 3D. However, my sister with whom I saw the film has said that when it comes out as buy-to-own, she will purchase the 3D version as some of the visuals in this movie could replace Avatar as the go-to movie for showing off 3D technology.
Now, perhaps the weakest part of the film. MCU films are often characterised as fun and humorous. In this area, I fell that Doctor Strange fell short. Neither I nor the audience I shared the cinema with found much if anything to laugh at. Attempts at humour scattered throughout the film either fell completely flat, or extracted only the most feeble of responses from the audience. It is to this I alluded to when I spoke of forced laughter from Wong. The film just could not capture the snappy repartee that so many other MCU films seem to hang their hat on. With orators of the quality of Cumberbatch, Ejiofor and Swinton, trying to replicate the banter of Downey Jr, Johansson and Renner would not seem the way to go. Perhaps this was a deliberate shift in tone to set the film apart from other MCU instalments. But this shortfall for me was the difference between Doctor Strange being a good film, and competing to be one of the best films in the MCU.
For those that care about such things, the film has two credit sequences. A mid-credit sequence tying it to the upcoming Thor:Ragnarok, and an end-credit sequence which is by no means a throwaway, but rather a set up for a probable sequel.
TL;DR version: Well acted. Some SFX eye candy that many will need to rewatch a few times just to appreciate in full. Lacking in humour compared to other MCU films. Still an enjoyable enough film in its own right and a worthy addition to the MCU.
Since Downey Jr, Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman all with roles in the MCU, all that remains is to find a slot for Jude Law (hero, villain or supporting) and the Sherlock puns can flow.