Generally Marvel films tend to be good. Some are excellent trips away from reality into the fantastic connected realm of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) while others tend to be mediocre at best (Thor films I’m looking at you). That being said with the exception of Iron Man 3 the MCU hasn’t really committed any real sins in cinema.
Yes. Iron Man 3 sucks ass but I’m not going to get into that fucking rant again in case I start a keyboard warrior war. Just kidding, but seriously I’m not. Iron Man 3 was a joke, but we’re here to talk about Marvel Studios latest offering Dr Strange.
Dr Strange is Marvel’s first real foray into the realm of magic. Now when I say magic some of you might argue that magic is already present in terms of Thor. Difference is the way magic is sold or served up in Dr Strange. In Thor and Thor: The Dark World what we perceive as magic is seen as their advancements in science. Whereas in Dr Strange we’re finally introduced to the mystical element of the MCU. Things are not always meant to make sense in this wonderful new realm or realms rather that we are thrown into in this origin story.
Origin story you ask? Yes this is indeed yet another origin story and while it is typically formulaic in its narrative as many other Marvel Studios origin stories that have come before it, Dr Strange still possesses a rather unique twist on the genre.
Dr Strange tells the tale of Dr Stephen Strange, a gifted neurosurgeon whose arrogance and sense of humour are reminiscent of the first time we were introduced to Tony Stark. That being said Benedict Cumberbatch’s character before his transformation and lesson in humility is far more likeable than that of Tony Stark before he became Iron Man. Without giving away any spoilers, the doctor is racing along to some fancy do and ends up in a brutal road accident which leaves him both close to death and with permanent nerve damage in his prized possessions as a surgeon, his hands. He sets off to waste his fortune on trying all sorts of experimental procedures in order to continue his arrogant romp as one of the world’s best surgeons. Obviously he fails to find the cure to his dilemma. He ends up in a move of desperation flying to Kathmandu Nepal to seek out a character named the Ancient One, played fantastically by the ever talented Tilda Swinton. It’s here where Dr Strange is trained in the mystic arts and where he makes a transformation from arrogant rich prick to protector of our realm.
The film as I said before might be yet another fucking origin story, sigh, why can’t we have more films that flashback cleverly? (Ahem Deadpool) That being said, the unique twist I spoke of comes in a couple of forms. Some critics have complained that everything moves along at too much of a quick and convenient pace. I think it’s refreshing change to the origin film structure and shouldn’t really bog you down even if you’re a film school alumni. These are comic book films not complex character studies, so I really don’t mind if the story progresses in a faster than usual fashion.
Visually the film is stunning. Many have compared the previewed sequences from the trailers to that of Inception’s, mind bending dream sequences. Yes perhaps they have borrowed some of this from the film visually but let’s take a moment to appreciate that the Dr Strange comics have been around for decades, so it could have been easy for Nolan to have borrowed some ideas for his film. By no means should people buy into the crap that this is an Inception rip off. The visuals and sequences are mesmerizing to say the least. It was unfortunate that the press screening was held at the rather shitty Ster Kinekor cinema nouveau at the V&A Waterfront on what felt like the overhead projector at school of cinema screens, but I’ve heard the film was filmed in 3D and IMAX 3D so I’ve already booked my tickets to see it a second time this Saturday. If you can spare the bucks I recommend making that trip to IMAX to enjoy this magical visual feast in the way it should be revered.
The cast have to be mentioned as well. What a stellar lineup Marvel put together for this outing into the mystic arts. Benedict Cumbersnatch shows why he might become the next favourite on screen star in the MCU as Tony Stark’s character and Robert Downey Jnr’s journey on screen may be coming to an end. Tilda Swinton as per usual is a shining star, every role this venerable actress takes on is met with a tour de force performance, even something as over the top as a Marvel comic book adaptation with magic. She commands every scene with vigor and grace. Next up is Rachel McAdams. I’ve always had a soft spot for this beautiful actress, and while she does no foul in her portrayal as Christine, the love interest for Strange, that’s all she really ever amounts to. A wasted character. I guess people need that shit. Moving on to the rest of the supporting cast, Mads Mikkelsen is great as the villain Kaecilius but once again this Marvel film suffers from a case of the villain being wasted. While the character has some truly unique motivations he’s just a puppet with the real threat being revealed in the final act. Then there is Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo. Another student of Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One and brethren to Stephen Strange. This actor who is highly underrated in general finally receives the screentime in a film so huge it will catapult his career. Benedict Wong of Netflix’s critically panned yet fantastic original series “Marco Polo” also shines in his role as the librarian Wong. In the comics Wong seems to be nothing more than a more than capable servant to Strange but in the film he’s the superior to Strange’s character. For now at least.
While it’s futile to write off the MCU’s adaptations of beloved comics with the tiresome mantra of “The comics are so much better”, it must be noted that despite a few key changes in this origin story the film really packs a wallop of good homage to the creator of the comic Steve Ditko. The director Scott Derrickson rose to challenge of capturing this unique character and his “out there” and psychedelic world. The sequence in the final act could have easily been lifted from the pages of Ditko’s comics along with many other small nods including the way the spells are cast in the air with hand movements in beautiful CGI feast like energy runes. I really did think they’d go that far but they did and they fucking owned it.
It’s hard to say how well this film will do with the unwashed masses who don’t follow the comics. Some might see the introduction of magic in the MCU to be that of “going too far”, but I think that people who are fans of the MCU, comic book nerds or not will love the fresh take on the superhero origin story that Dr Strange carries so well. The cast, the set pieces, the visuals and the pace at which the film flows at make it yet another Marvel hit and the best film from the studio since Captain America: Winter Soldier or Guardians of The Galaxy in my humble opinion. I have to award this the fourteenth MCU feature film a solid 9/10. Now don’t be a fucking pirate, spend the cash on an IMAX ticket so that we can enjoy more risk taking projects like Dr Strange in the future.