Marvel continue to expand their cinematic universe here, taking a second tier character and moving into the more mystical aspects of the universe. I’ve always kinda dug the Doctor Strange character and the way the comics mixed magic into the superhero world and the movie works in much the same way.
Dr Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon who lives a life of luxury. His over confidence rubs colleagues up the wrong way but he is respected for his skills, especially by his ex, ER doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), who he continues to have a flirtatious relationship.
While driving to a speaking engagement and distracted by his phone Strange crashes, severely damaging his hands. Unable to continue his career he burns through his savings in a futile search for a way to fix his hands and sinks into bitterness, pushing Christine away after he becomes angry at her perceived pity. Meeting a man who recovered from irreversible paralysis, Strange learns he was healed after visiting a place called Kamar-Taj, in Katmandu. Using the last of his money Strange travels in search of answers.
There he finds a mysterious group headed by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who speaks of spirit and magic. Strange dismisses this as nonsense until the Ancient One shows him his astral form and the different dimensions. She is reluctant to teach the arrogant Strange but her student Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) urges her to take him on and finally she agrees.
Strange is introduced to a secret world, discovering the forces and powers at work I’m the universe and becoming adept at the mystic arts. Kamar-Taj is linked to three sanctums which exert a sort of force field that protects Earth from interdimensional attack.
His photographic memory allows him to learn spells quickly, and he frequents the library run by taciturn sorcerer Wong (Benedict Wong). He reads a book which has been damaged, learning that pages were stolen by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former student of the Ancient One who has gone rogue, aligning himself with a Dormammu a powerful being from the Dark Dimension who seeks to absorb more dimensions into his power. Kaecilius believes that this will save mankind from the ravages of time and death. He is disillusioned with the Ancient One and believes she has lied to her followers.
After they attack the London sanctum Strange escapes to New York where he attempts to stop Kaecilius and his followers. Despite his inexperience he manages to hold them off until Mordo and the Ancient One arrive to help, but New York falls. Strange and his allies realise that the final sanctum in Hong Kong must be protected and rush there to make a final stand against Kaecilius.
Can they stop the Dark Dimension from engulfing the Earth? Has the Ancient One been hiding things from her followers? And will Strange heal his hands, or does he now have a greater goal to pursue?
I really enjoyed this film which went in a slightly new direction for Marvel and was extremely good fun. The visuals, especially during a trippy sequence where Strange is sent flying through alternate dimensions are glorious and the psychedelic feel works. Plot wise it’s formulaic in places- arrogant self absorbed hero has to realise there is a bigger game at work, adjust his priorities and triumph.
But the formula is carried off well, in large part thanks to Cumberbatch, who can do arrogant genius in his sleep (Sherlock, The Imitation Game, Star Trek Into Darkness) and here he is entertaining as the strutting Strange. He also does a good job keeping the character’s glib nature even when he finds himself out of his depth.
It also works because he gives brief glimpses of vulnerability cracking through the bravado but like Marvel’s other bearded hero Tony Stark, he has the quick wits to get out of most situations.
The rest of the cast is a little less impressive, with Mikkelsen being a rather dull villain and the Ancient One not getting much depth. Worst of all is how criminally underused the always charming Rachel McAdams is. She has very little to do and it’s a shame that a good actress doesn’t get anything to sink her teeth into.
However Ejifor carries himself with class as Mordo and his rigid world view sets him up to clash with Strange’s reckless use of magic and should develop nicely in further instalments.
The final face off is rather smartly done, and the effects are glorious. The fight scenes are well done, particularly a sequence where Strange and a foe battle in the astral plane and their actions cross over into the real world. Another nice touch is that Strange’s Cloak of Levitation is given a personality of itself, kind of like the magic carpet in Aladdin.
It’s not the strongest Marvel movie but it’s incredibly good fun and takes the MCU in new directions while still feeling part of it in terms of tone and characters. Definitely left me wanting to see more of the good Doctor.
Verdict: Lots of fun and with great visuals, the film is carried by a charismatic performance from Cumberbatch. The action sequences are handled well and it’s an interesting and entertaining addition to the Marvel Universe. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.