Doctor Strange (2016)

Just a Kind of Magic

Director: Scott Derrickson
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton

One cannot accuse Marvel Studios of playing it too safe this year. After Captain America: Civil War divided characters down the middle, the studio decided to follow it up with one big leap into the mystical side of the Universe. A trip which seems to have paid off.

After a car accident severs the nerves in his hands, talented neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) ventures to Kamar-Taj, in the hopes for a cure. His journey leads him to The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a mystic who shows him the hidden world of sorcery. The experience leads Strange to follow her tutelage, devoting himself to studying the mystic arts.

The character progression of our title character is familiar, carrying a thickly arrogant persona, which subsides once a larger world is revealed to him, and a higher purpose presents itself to him. But Benedict Cumberbatch overcomes the material which feels ripped from Iron Man, proving perfect in the title role, as he delivers the right amount of cockiness and heroism which made his iteration of Sherlock Holmes so popular.

But the visuals are the real star here, delivering stunning views into this new world and the magics which are part of it. An apt description is Inception on LSD. From the big scenery altering magics to the way gravity and reality are altered for fighting scenes, what director Scott Derrickson brings to the table is pretty impressive. It also contains one of the best scores in a Marvel picture, fantastically delivered by Michael Giacchio.

Mads Mikkelsen puts his all into the villainous role of Kaecellius, who has shades of an interesting character, but could've done with a bit more work. Chiwetel Ejiofor suffers from much of the same, as his supposed friendship with Strange is more talked about than it is witnessed onscreen. There's interesting shades to his character once more, but one wishes he was utilised a bit more onscreen.

Rachel McAdams brings a charming and easily likeable persona to Christine, which makes it a shame how little the film actually uses her. At best, she's there to utilise her profession and react to the mystical side of things in a comedic way, but she manages both pretty well. Much controversy was made about Tilda Swinton's casting as The Ancient One, but for what it's worth, she owns the role. Special mention also to Benedict Wong, who proves a stoic scene stealer as Wong.

It's apparent the film follows the typical origin tale, carrying the familiar beats in the story structure. But these moments aren't hugely detrimental, as we bear witness to mind bending visuals that one-up Inception, enjoyable shenanigans reminiscent of Groundhog Day, and the fighting antics of a mystical cloak.

Standing out well as both a part of the MCU and a standalone story for its lead character, Doctor Strange is, for lack of a better word, magic. A promising start for Marvel's newest addition, and the latest in a long line of successful risks for the studio.