The Newsroom’s Jessica Staveley reviews Doctor Strange, the 14th film release from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Dr Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a hardworking, temperamental, New York neurosurgeon. Throw in his arrogance and immeasurable wealth and Dr Strange becomes almost difficult to distinguish from Marvel’s very own brilliant, but big-headed, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr).
In a catastrophic car accident, Strange’s hands suffer irreparable nerve damage, preventing him from continuing his work. After finding no hope in Western medicine, Strange is told to seek out Kamar-Taj in Nepal – the home and training ground of the Masters of the Mystic Arts, led by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).
Here, Dr Strange learns that the Ancient One and her followers are capable of unimaginable, mystic things including travelling between realms and creating gateways to other universes.
Although Strange initially goes to Kamar-Taj in the hope of healing his nerve damage, he soon discovers a knack for magic – just in time for the film’s finale: a battle with a former follower of the Ancient One, Kaecillius (played by Hannibal star Mads Mikkelsen).
Doctor Strange is not your typical Marvel comic book movie, but it certainly is the first step into Marvel’s “wizarding world”. The film is darker than previous releases from the MCU in its storyline and themes of mysticism, death, and time.
Visually, Doctor Strange is dazzlingly trippy. New York City is shown in a way we’ve never dreamt of. The city skyline folds in ways comparable to Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception – it’s a mix of architectural origami and Escher’s famous optical illusion artworks. With this, the film’s action scenes literally defy gravity with characters running up the sides of buildings. (Hey, Disney, I think we need a Doctor Strange-inspired ride now.)
There’s a sharp wit to the film’s screenplay, with humour and pop culture references sprinkled thoughtfully throughout the film. Dr Strange’s trademark levitation clock even plays a key role in the humour of the film, often stealing the scene with its humanised gags.
British Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly cast as Dr Strange … even though he hasn’t quite nailed his American accent. Although his intellect and intelligence don’t quite reach the heights of Sherlock Holmes, it’s an enjoyable, engaging and likable representation of the character.
The casting of Scotswoman Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One was criticised, with claims the film is “whitewashed”. Despite the controversy, Swinton is brilliant and her warm presence is felt through the screen.
In the MCU’s traditional way, Stan Lee also had his signature cameo in the film, being seen reading Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception on a bus.
Could Doctor Strange be one of the best comic book-derived stories since Guardians of the Galaxy? Quite possibly.
Even though there was a lack of depth about the elaborateness of the sorcerer’s hand movements and the greater mystic world, the film delivered in-character growth and world building, paving the way for future Doctor Strange films and appearances. Wong (Benedict Wong), the Kamar Taj’s librarian, solidifies the role of the Masters of the Mystic Arts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe explaining, “The Avengers protect the world from physical dangers, we safeguard it against more mystical threats.”
With two end credits scenes hinting at more to come, it seems the magic is just kicking off for fans of Doctor Strange. – Jessica Staveley
Photos: promotional images from Disney/Marvel.