Within the past 8 years, the rapid increase of superhero movies has changed the film industry forever. The onslaught of high-budgeted visual spectacles has both commercially and financially dominated the industry, smashing box-office records and attracting countless A-list actors and directors to get involved; and whilst some oppose the rise of the MCU era, you have to admit it’s an exciting time to be alive.
Scott Derrickson, most notably known for his contributions to the horror genre, has stepped out of his comfort zone and delved headfirst into unfamiliar territory; taking the reins of Marvel’s next cinematic spectacle: Doctor Strange.
Although passive superhero fans have become overly accustomed to household characters such as Iron Man, Thor and Captain America – most, including myself, may not be so familiar with the star of this movie – Doctor Stephen Strange. Similarly to 2015’s Ant-Man, this is very much an origin story. Strange, played by the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch, is introduced as an arrogant and egotistical neurosurgeon, who, shown through some rushed exposition, is an expert in his profession. However, when he’s involved in a catastrophic car accident that pretty much buggers all the nerves in his hands, (a major problem for a neurosurgeon, obviously) Stephen Strange must embark on a journey to find ‘The Ancient One’ (Tilda Swinton), an ancient sorcerer capable of healing his seemingly-irreversible injuries.
Doctor Strange showcases its spectacular visual effects on offer from the outset, with its Inception-like buildings rotating and manipulating in the environment surrounding the battle between Swinton and Mikkelsen. The visual extravaganza continues through the films entirety, taking advantage of the advanced digital technology of its time and leaving audiences in awe. Unlike its predecessors, Doctor Strange has a strong focus on magic, sorcery and the existence of alternative dimensions – something that has only been touched upon in the earlier MCU films. As a result, the aesthetically beautiful amalgamation of surreal cinematography and visual effects go hand-in-hand in creating an exotic and dreamlike adventure that is like no other, and should undeniably be applauded for its digital achievements.
The MCU is no stranger to perfect casting decisions and casting director Sarah Finn’s selection of Benedict Cumberbatch as the man of the hour is spot on. His performance is one of the film’s main accomplishments – with his humourous and loveable nature shining brightly, comparable to his renowned performance as Sherlock Holmes in BBC’s Sherlock. His character, a man of science, must accept causes that are unexplainable to the human mind – a standpoint viewers must adopt in order to absorb the full enjoyment that can be had with this movie.
But seeing as Doctor Strange is, in fact, an origin story, there is a lot of information and explaining needed for unfamiliar viewers; and with Doctor Strange being such a complex character – it’s very easy to get lost in the film’s narrative. Viewers are force-fed rapid details about alternative dimensions and metaphysical abilities, and for a film that is roughly only 2 hours long (a short running-time in comparison to other MCU flicks), there is zero wriggle room to comprehend certain information that, potentially, could be essential in understanding the plot.
The main threat that Doctor Strange faces, though, is its conformity to the conventional ‘good guys vs. bad guys’ narrative. The bad guys in question are leaded by Kaecillius, a former student of The Ancient One’s teachings, who seeks to convert Earth into a timeless universe where immortality is prevalent in the new world order. This sense of global threat and intrusion isn’t anything new, and if the truth be told, Marvel’s tendency to conform to this recurring template must be questioned in order to inject variation into the franchise.
A dazzling spectacle!
Doctor Strange, in the end, is a film that isn’t afraid to take risks. Its central focus on the mysticism of magic and spells is unparalleled to its peers in the MCU, making it the dark horse of the franchise. It’s fun, whimsical and a delight to behold; boosted by hypnotising performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton. Bravo.