Originally written on November 8, 2016
By: Nick Poulimenakos
As a lifelong comic book fan, there have always been certain characters that I have wanted to see on the big and/or small screen. When speaking about Marvel Comics, these characters include: Magneto, Wolverine, Daredevil, The Punisher, Iron Man, Deadpool and Doctor Strange. When Fox began the X-Men film franchise and Disney launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I never thought a character like Doctor Strange would ever come to the silver screen. He is a character that wields the power of magic, something that wasn’t introduced into the initial MCU. However, that all changed when Disney and Marvel announced a Doctor Strange film with Benedict Cumberbatch starring the main role. My excitement was at an all-time high as one of my personal favourite comic characters was finally going to be adapted with one of my favourite actors in the lead role. Initially, I did have some reservations. I wondered how Marvel was going to introduce a force like magic and if they would properly show what kind of character Doctor Strange really is. After viewing the film, I can definitely say that Doctor Strange is another home run for Marvel and the house of mouse.
Doctor Strange follows Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Stephen Strange, a genius but egotistical neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands during a horrific car crash. Desperate to regain the use of his hands, Strange travels to Nepal in search for The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who tells him through the mystic arts, he will be able to heal himself. Strange trains under The Ancient One, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong) and begins to use his new found magical powers to not only fix his injuries, but to battle unseen dark forces led by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and defend the real world and the vast dimensions that lie beyond it from the use of dark magic.
When you think of perfect castings in comic book adaptations, you’d probably think of Robert Downy Jr. as Iron Man or Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Benedict Cumberbatch is no different as he is absolutely fantastic in the role as Stephen Strange. Cumberbatch brings such charisma and boastfulness to the role. Every time he speaks, he commands the room. Whether it’s a dramatic or comedic scene, Cumberbatch balances the emotion and arrogance of Strange so well. I would go so far as to say that Benedict Cumberbatch could be a prime candidate to become the MCU’s new “it guy” after Robert Downey Jr. eventually moves on from his iconic role as the iron avenger.
As big as the controversy surrounding the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One is, I’m going to strictly review her performance as the character only. Swinton gives a great performance as Strange’s mentor. She brings both emotional depth and humor to the role that bounces off Mordo’s intensity and Strange’s overconfidence very well. Swinton succeeds in portraying The Ancient One as a complex, over-the-top, and enigmatic teacher that teaches Strange the true meaning of being a superhero.
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo and Benedict Wong as Wong are phenomenal supporting characters. Mordo, who has been altered from the comics to be an amalgamation of different characters from the Doctor Strange mythos who goes from a steadfast and loyal student under The Ancient One to a deeply conflicted, almost villainous character in what is probably the best character arc in the film. Wong is the perfect character for comic relief despite being slightly underused. Each time he proves Strange, a person who feels they are always right, wrong, it brings a certain levity to dramatic sequences.
Before I review the visual effects, I’ll talk about the negatives I found in the film. While I found Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal of ex-student turned villain, Kaecilius to be fun, he was also extremely underused, a common problem among MCU films. Throughout the movie, there are nods to a tragedy that the main antagonist suffered but it is never shown. This proposed tragedy seems to be what fuels Kaecilius into leaving the Kamar-Taj (home to the teaching of the mystic arts) and begin using dark magic but instead, we are introduced to a character that is not properly fleshed out. Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer demonstrates great on-screen chemistry with the sorcerer supreme but is regulated to the sidelines when the story hits its stride. I won’t divulge into major spoilers but, while I liked the twist and turns of the third act, it was slightly underwhelming and I feel like it the film had a longer runtime, the ending could have been done in an even more creative and action packed way. Although, I do applaud Marvel for taking a different route when it comes to how they end their films. They attempted to do something not commonly associated with the final acts of superhero films and I commend that.
Ok, let’s review the visual effects of this film. I predict from now that this film will be the frontrunner for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Doctor Strange has quite possibly the most stunning CGI visual effects ever. The imagery is mind-bending and it looks as if Steve Ditko’s classic 1960’s artwork is beautifully brought to life. The film combines psychedelic and action packed visuals all into one nearly two hour film. The buildings twist and turn as if they were made out of playdoh or a Rubik’s cube. From the opening sequence of buildings flipping upside down to Strange entering the mirror dimension and ending with a glimpse in the feared dark dimension, Doctor Strange is by far the best Marvel film to date in terms of looks.
I won’t spoil anything, but, as for the two post-credit scenes, the first one is hilarious and the second one successfully sets up a sequel for Doctor Strange while also introducing the audience to what could be the next great Marvel movie villain.
Michael Giacchino’s score fixes a collective issue that surrounds the MCU. A common problem that the MCU films have with their music (excluding The Avengers, Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy who, in my opinion, don’t have this issue), is that they do not have a common riff or theme that is played throughout most songs during that film that make a musical score so memorable. Giacchino’s composition brings a psychedelic, harpsichord heavy score that will stay in your head for days. What makes his common riff for the film so enticing is the fact that it can be played during any scene and on whatever instrument the scene requires. It’s memorable, it’s exciting, and it’s what every MCU film should try to recreate.
Doctor Strange, while sharing common MCU problems, is a visual masterpiece with excellent character portrayals and a wonderful musical score. By the time “Doctor Strange will return” displays on the big screen, you will undoubtedly be excited to see where these characters go next. Benedict Cumberbatch is phenomenal in the titular role and I cannot wait to see him alongside The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy when Avengers: Infinity War rolls around in 2018. It is a beautifully crafted, self-contained story that will have you clamoring for more psychedelic action sequences that melt your brain in an instance. It is by no means, a perfect film, but director Scott Derrickson demonstrates that a superhero can exist in the same universe without the weight of The Avengers on their shoulders. All in all, this is another win for Marvel Studios as it is a fun, trippy superhero flick that introduces the viewer to a truly magical and mystical future for the MCU.