Doctor Strange shows how confident Marvel are in their “plan.” What started as a fledgling idea back in 2008 with Iron Man has now become a twice-yearly event and each new superhero movie develops the wider world and leads to something bigger.
So far, Marvel have managed to keep the superheroes fairly standard, even Ant-Man could be boiled down to the usual superhero tropes and Guardians of the Galaxy aside, Doctor Strange has become their first major risk because this is like no other superhero movie.
This isn’t a criticism though. In fact, Doctor Strange seems to breathe new life into the superhero genre and offers something that will excite some and baffle others. Doctor Strange has moments which confuse, which are intense and attack the senses and in the end, strays far enough away from the usual Marvel origin stories to feel unique.
This is down to some of the amazing visuals that director Scott Derrickson put together. Buildings fold, disappear and become completely different objects entirely. Whole universes of vibrant colour are explored and the movie is not afraid to create brand new powers and bring magic into the extended Marvel Universe. Some will think of it as a step too far but it is a bold and necessary movie if the superhero genre is to continue unabated.
Marvel haven’t forgotten the most important part of any superhero movie though and they cast the perfect Doctor Strange in Benedict Cumberbatch. It seems bizarre to see the grounded Sherlock actor waving his hands around and entering the Marvel Cinematic Universe but he also has the presence to stand toe-to-toe with the established Marvel heavy-hitters. One mid-credit cameo aside, it will be interesting to see him come up against Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man or Chris Evans’ Captain America.
Cumberbatch’s Strange is not the only interesting character and Marvel demonstrate their pulling-power further by casting Tilda Swinton as the bald Ancient One. She gets to be as bad-ass as her male counterparts and plays an integral part to the story, adding some gravitas and due respect to the quite generic narrative.
This is the problem Marvel will always face with their superhero origin movies: they follow the same patterns. Doctor Strange is a very unique area, with different powers and stunning visuals, but boil it down to it’s parts and it is a clear origin story with the same plot beats. As always, the villain is too under-developed to be anything but a menacing presence, which is a shame when you have as great an actor as Mads Mikkelson playing him. The love interest is side-lined for 95% of the film, appearing as an aid rather than a character in her own right and again, an actress as good as Rachel McAdams deserves better.
Luckily Doctor Strange makes up for most of this with the other key Marvel elements. It is an exciting movie, with great action, this time taking place in a completely different sort of environment. It has some great nods to the wider universe, be it an Avengers name-check, the aforementioned cameo or a full-on tease for a much bigger story involving certain “infinity stones.” Add to this a finale which at least offers a new take on beating the “big-bad villain” and the originality may have just saved this from being generic.
Overall, Doctor Strange is unique enough to stop it falling into the same generic Marvel origin story traps. Benedict Cumberbatch is great as the hero, while Tilda Swinton offers heavyweight support. The visuals are amazing and like nothing you’ve seen in a Marvel film before. It is just a shame that a wasted villain and pointless love interest cast a shadow over the positive elements.
Rating – 3.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)