Doctor Strange is the latest Marvel movie to join the ever-growing Cinematic Universe and introduces Benedict Cumberbatch in possibly one of the least inspired casting decisions ever made. This allows for an interesting, fun if formulaic storyline that follows the brilliant surgeon Stephen Strange who suffers from a horrific accident and finds himself travelling the world to begin a healing process that will take deeper and deeper into discovering the mystical and magical arts in a film that serves as a way of introducing magic to an already crowded universe that already brings plenty of angry green rage monsters (okay, maybe only one – but there’s also a Hulkbuster, right?), Norse gods and space battles to the table. It may not be an entirely original storyline but it does have plenty to offer at the same time if you’re looking for some light entertainment.
Scott Derrickson is primarily known for his work on the 2012 horror movie Sinister starring Ethan Hawke, but there is nothing really unique about this movie in terms of directorial approach. For all its amazing special effects, it still unfortunately falls into the cut and paste approach of the Marvel Universe formula, featuring a generic love interest, a forgettable villain, and a waste of an excellent cast. However, that excellent cast does have its benefits as Rachel McAdams aces it in the role as Doctor Christine Palmer. The film even manages to sneak in a potential reference to NBC’s Hannibal when it comes to the villain played by Mads Mikkelsen, who again plays his character well, but the script doesn’t do enough to make him different from all the forgettable Marvel villains that have come before him.
Joining Cumberbatch’s Strange as he learns about magic are Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tilda Swinton. Swinton’s casting caused a bit of controversy and we could have really done with less whitewashing when it came to her casting, but Swinton does her job effectively. She acts as a mentor for Strange, teaching him to forget everything that he thinks he knows as he is plunged from one dimension to the next. If only the movie could have forgotten everything it knew about traditional tropes and storytelling as well, it could have been the next great thing in the Marvel Universe, but instead it falls in with middle of the road offerings like Ant-Man and Captain America: The First Avenger. Fun and entertaining, but quickly forgettable and unfortunately, not as great as it could have been.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Strange is an impressive one, but again it still feels like a really uninspired casting choice. The risks may be taken in adapting, once again, a relatively minor superhero to the big screen, but by re-treading the same constant Marvel formula that we’ve seen time and time again, it feels formulaic. In fact, it has the same ending battle sequence as 2016’s Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers; the only difference being the switch in location from New York to Hong Kong, and even New York features prominently in the build-up. To be fair, there’s a reason why that formula is repeated; it has found success in plenty of Marvel’s previous movies and makes the most out of a solid pace. Boasting a few decent jokes and a couple of neat references to the winder Marvel Universe (you’ll want to stick around for that mid-credits cameo) the film remains as entertaining as hell.
The score by Michael Giacchino is an interesting one. Marvel has often been criticised for forgettable, bland scores, and whilst most of the soundtrack fits into the same mould there are a couple of song choices that stand out, namely the End Credits score in particular. Again, it suffers from the same problems of the rest of the movie in that there isn’t really anything unique here.
The pacing is solid and the formula feels very similar to Batman Begins with a healthy dose of visuals from The Matrix and Inception. The CGI visuals are among the best of the year, up there with the likes of Star Trek Beyond, and there are some mind-bending elements that really play to the film’s strengths and prove that the more unknown territory you’re in, the more exciting it gets. The most exciting sequences come during the magical battles, or when the laws of time are played with. There’s even a cool Groundhog Day moment, but to say more would be spoiling it a bit too much.
Does all of its strengths make Doctor Strange a great film then? Not exactly, no. It’s at least a good one, with the film managing to be entertaining, benefiting from some outstanding visuals, but unfortunately there are not enough risks taken in terms of the story to make it truly stand out from the wide selection of superhero movies out there already.