For some of us, the endless barrage of Marvel movies risk becoming quite grating; for others, having a new superhero movie every few months is a dream come true. With Doctor Strange you sense Marvel has aimed to straddle the middle ground between these camps.
By recruiting respected actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton to the cause and choosing a more niche comic as inspiration, director Scott Derrickson sidesteps some of the cheesiness and bravado that afflicts some of their films.
Cumberbatch manages a convincing American accent as neurosurgeon Dr Stephen Strange, whose arrogance (in a pretty frustrating scene to watch) leads him to lose the function in his hands in an accident. Unable to live without his work, Strange’s desperation leads him to a temple in Nepal in a last ditch attempt to regain control of his body, where he meets Swinton’s ‘The Ancient One’. Strange’s unease with the sorcerers’ ‘magic’ leads to a mind-bending and visually stunning sequence where Cumberbatch is catapulted through various dimensions and hallucinations in order to open him up to Swinton’s teachings.
Even if you’re tired of these superhero movies, the weird and wonderful visuals on display make Doctor Strange worth a watch. With sorcerers using their powers to distort and manipulate famous landscapes (we travel to sanctums in New York, London and Hong Kong), the effects team put in a virtuoso performance to make absurdly complex transformations feel totally real.
Conflict comes in the form of Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius, a former protégé of The Ancient One, intent on delivering Earth to an entity called Dormammu, who for some reason or other harvest worlds in his own timeless dimension. As is common in comic adaptations, the motives of the mega-villain are poorly defined, making it harder to get worked up over the future of the world with every movie release. Nevertheless, the internal tension for our main characters is of ideology; The Ancient One taps into darker powers in order to keep Earth safe, with Strange and the other sorcerers having to contend with this contradiction while fighting alongside her.
As far as superhero blockbusters go, the film is fairly light on macho punch-ups, rather using the ‘sorcery’ premise to let special effects do the fighting, and the results are spellbinding. There’s time for a few well-placed jokes as in most Marvel films, which Cumberbatch carries off with consummate ease. It’s just a shame that, if the post-credits are anything to go by, Doctor Strange will have to share the stage with more one-dimensional characters in following films.