MARVEL STUDIOS (2016)

 

Director: Scott Derrickson

 

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton

The 14th instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe brings us the master of magic and head bending, Doctor Strange. With the progress and success of its cinematic phases, Marvel has been beginning to slowly eke out lesser known superheroes (Ant-Man) to reach the wider audience and to continue to build their monolithic universe – this time it’s the good Doctor.

 

Benedict Cumberbatch dons the Cloak of Levitation, playing the uber-talented neurosurgeon Stephen Strange who when not talking himself up and being the most arrogant in the room takes on near-impossible surgeries with the simple aim of making himself look fantastic. That all comes crashing down, however, when whilst speeding in his sexy Lamborgini, Strange fails driving rule 101 – don’t text and drive. The wild crash that follows robs Strange of the use of his talented hands.

With nowhere to turn and money spent, Strange is told of a place in Kathmandu known as Kamar-Taj, where the mysterious inhabitants have cured paraplegics and enlighten their subjects on entirely different levels than the norm. Against the wishes of spurned lover Christine (McAdams), Strange heads off to meet with Mordo (Ejiofor) and the mythical Ancient One (Swinton) on a bid to heal himself, but is introduced to an entirely different world – one also inhabited by former student and all-round baddie Kaecilius (Mikkelsen).

 

Watching this reminded me of various elements of Batman Begins, The Matrix and Inception with a dash of MCU magic sprinkled over it. The classic origin story is repeated here – the rich, arrogant goon is put on a path to find himself and find his untapped potential – but there’s still something intriguing in watching this. An origin story is only as good as the actors delivering it, and this movie has an abundance of them. Cumberbatch is great as Strange and it’s clear he’s having a ball playing the character. The supporting throng of Wong and Ejiofor are strong and provide good exposition (present and for future) and despite the casting controversy, Swinton has a bizarre, otherworldly aura around her in an assured performance.

 

The visual effects are mind blowing. Simply put – stunning. If ever a movie demanded to be seen in 3D, it’s this one. Whether it’s the Ancient One showing Strange astral projection, the onscreen magic and battles, the out-of-body experiences or the head-bending Inception-style buildings folding into themselves, this movie jumps out of the screen at you and grabs you by the eyelids. It’s astonishing to watch, and thankfully compliments the movie as opposed to being a gimmick. Coupled with the effects, Michael Giacchino provides another great score, this time eschewing any themes or characters motifs, instead decorating the onscreen visuals with delicate pieces to help capture the mood of the scene.

 

A superhero movie wouldn’t be complete, though, without its share of throwaway villains and to a large extent, Doctor Strange is no exception. Having Mads Mikkelsen play a villain is a no-brainer – the guy is class – however his Kaecilius is merely cool eye make-up and an underused commodity. His rivalry with Strange is based on the fact that they are basically in each other’s way. The big bad is a briefly seen cosmic entity known as Dormammu, and is entirely forgettable. Thanks anyway Dormy. Also underused is the character of Christine, Strange’s estranged love interest played by Rachel McAdams, whose talent is underutilised and merely equates to bewildered reaction shots.

 

The story itself isn’t anything strange (get it?) and is a fairly well-trodden romp in the superhero genre, however the movie eschews the needs for explosions and colour for a more introverted approach initially, before the effects begin to take over and we enter the various dimensions on offer (the Dark, the Mirror). It is a wonder how Strange managed to master magic so quickly however.

 

The ubiquitous post-credits scenes set up Doctor Strange for a greater role within the MCU and alongside the Avengers, so with a rumoured sequel and the upcoming Infinity War, Strange isn’t going away – and that’s a good thing as he is an interesting character and the movie had enough about it to warrant further stories. It’s a slightly different direction for Marvel, but an experiment that paid off. Laced with good humour, Doctor Strange is a fun, thrilling entry into the ever-expanding MCU.

July 18th 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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