By Thomas Simpson
With the near monthly release of superhero movies, audiences could be forgiven for feeling some fatigue. As the juggernaut rolls through town collecting profitable box office returns the chances of the genre dying anytime soon is bleak. Marvel’s success, both critically and commercially, have seen the studio create a cinematic universe filled with colorful characters. Some of these costumed heroes were household names, while others were introduced to a general public more than willing to give them a chance. Paging Doctor Strange.
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) has a name fit for a superhero and possesses great skill albeit as an acclaimed neurosurgeon. Strange is an arrogant man only interested in helping those that will bring him fame and feed his ego. When he’s involved in a horrific car crash that destroys his hands he faces a life without a future he’s willing to accept. After exhausting the possibilities of Western medicine, he travels east to explore more spiritual methods. Under the tutelage of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her loyal follower Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Strange reluctantly enters a world of mysticism and sorcery that threatens the very realm he calls home.
Doctor Strange is the 14th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and while it feels familiar in places it’s the breath of fresh air the genre demands. The hero’s journey is laid out with a familiar story arc we’ve seen a million times before, yet director Scott Derrickson has crafted an exciting fantasy film that also transcends the familiar superhero movie.
The visuals are stunning as Derrickson provides mind bending set pieces, careful to not let them mesh together into one big mess. The CGI although not perfect is a joy to watch as the world before us is folded and expanded, showing us that there’s much more to the MCU than what we’ve seen.
While Doctor Strange sits within the MCU, the film isn’t bogged down by what’s come before. With a nod and a wink, we’re reminded of the bigger picture yet remove a handful of lines and Doctor Strange could be a standalone film.
The performances are brilliant with Cumberbatch, Swinton, Ejiofor and Mads Mikkelsen (as the villainous Kaecilius) adding some gravity to a script that churns magic and science terminologies into dialogue, while expecting us to have a clue what’s happening. That’s one for the film’s strengths, although it would be easy to get beaten down by the weight of language, there is room for a lot of humor and it doesn’t feel forced.
Doctor Strange is a highly enjoyable fantasy flick that injects new life into the superhero genre even if there’s nothing revolutionary at play. It carefully balances between what Marvel need for the series while peeking over the edge of imagination.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.