Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor & Tilda Swinton
Synopsis: A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts.
Rating: 12A Duration 115 minutes Release date: 25 October (UK)
It’s a familiar story by now, Marvel Studios make a film and everyone hands over their money and goes wild for it. We’ve been doing this as a collective since 2008 when Iron Man first hit our screens. Since then we’ve had magic hammers, raging green monsters, super soldiers, shrinking men and now we have a magician. Yes, Marvel are now that confident that a film about an arrogant, but brilliant neurosurgeon turned arrogant, but brilliant master of ancient magic that it seems almost effortless. Like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, this is apparently Marvel’s “biggest risk yet”, but it’s done with such swagger that it feels like anything but.
Beginning in Nepal, an ancient compound known as Kamar-Taj is raided by Mads Mikkelson’s Kaecilius and his goons as they look for a book that contains the secret to eternal life. Tracked by Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One a battle ensues across Nepal and then into London as they battle in a scene reminiscent of Inception, but if Inception had overdosed on steroids. It’s a stunning way to open the film and director Scott Derrickson takes no time at all in showcasing just how much of a trip Doctor Strange will be. The film quickly changes pace as we are introduced to Doctor Steven Strange who, in an uncomfortably familiar Sherlock style, is a well of knowledge and has an unmoving confidence in his ability as a neurosurgeon. Unfortunately, Strange comes across as a bit of a prick, but without the charm that makes Tony Stark so likeable.
It’s familiar territory for Marvel. Most of their heroes have started off as proud and arrogant only to have won you over by the film’s end through a combination of hardship and inner turmoil. Doctor Strange follows this process to the letter, but there is something about Steven Strange that means he never quite wins your heart in the same way that Thor or Iron Man did. In fact, the Marvel method is followed rather too closely here and Doctor Strange flies way too close to Iron Man and his origin story that it feels overly familiar now, to the point where it becomes predictable even for casual audiences.
Perhaps this is an easy criticism to throw at Marvel now, but it is something that they should be looking at preventing in the future. Only a few of their recent efforts have failed to hit the really high standards they have set themselves, but audiences won’t want them to fall into the trap of being overly confident in their product and thus making films that are comfortable rather than spectacular.
Despite some obvious flaws, Doctor Strange’s biggest strength lies in its characters. Supporting actors Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong add both heart and humour as Mordo and Wong, while Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One has an all-knowing ability with an earthly bitterness added for good measure. Mad Mikkelsen’s bad guy, as with the majority of Marvel villains, is flat and undeveloped which is a terrible shame when considering how good an actor Mikkelsen is. As the Doctor, Cumberbatch struggles to take the lead in a film and lacks the charisma to be truly endearing. Perhaps he will play better with others, ala the Hulk, than he does in a standalone film, something we will certainly see in the not too distant future.
It’s hard to berate Marvel and their films too much. Because for all their similarities, they are still superior popcorn entertainment, regardless of which character the film is about and there is always something to enjoy in their films. For now, Doctor Strange is a perfectly entertaining film and features some of the funniest moments in any superhero film, but it lacks the tools to be truly outstanding.