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Review: Doctor Strange

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan


The second of the Marvel films for 2016 is the first new character’s origin story since Guardians of the Galaxy, the difference with Doctor Strange is that it goes back to introducing a single character.

Doctor Strange’s story reflects the, by now, familiar origin arc: Arrogant, wealthy surgeon, Stephen Strange gets into a car accident that damages his hands, effectively ending his career. On his quest to regain his former life he spends his vast wealth on all sorts of consultations, none of which work until he learns about a place in Nepal that helped a crippled man to walk again. He spends the last of his money to get there and is eventually taken in by what look like Buddhist monks where he is trained in magic.

It’s a very familiar arc to Tony Stark in Iron Man, except the Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is quite an unlikable character, shunning the help and support of a, frankly, marginalised Rachael McAdams as the long-suffering, on-again-off-again love interest. He is also dismissive of everyone, much like Stark is, except Stark still manages to keep you on side because he oozes charm. Strange is just a bit of a dick.

There are some amazing visuals in this film, which are based on the city bending visuals introduced in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. The technology has come on leaps and bounds over the last decade, however, at the world-bending that happens in Doctor Strange is almost too much to focus on. But it’s really impressive.

Tilda Swinton is always a class act and largely silences critics of whitewashing with a brilliant performance as The Ancient One. Bennedict Wong’s character, … Wong, is Strange’s man-servant in the comics, thankfully he’s given a more rounded role here as the librarian and keeper of spells, although he is proven to be a little incompetent in this area. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mads Mikkelsen round off the main cast and lend real heft to both Strange’s mentor, Mordo and the villain of the piece, Kaecilius respectively.

As visually amazing and full of top-class actors as Doctor Strange is, it is let down by the formulaic origin story, too many quips from characters that don’t feel like they should be quipping and the treatment of its female characters, something Marvel really need to sort out after nearly a decade. Rachael McAdams is largely sidelined and Tilda Swinton’s character is killed off. The only strong female character Marvel has is Black Widow, it amazes me that they keep writing out virtually all their female characters. But that’s another blog altogether.

One of the things that does make Doctor Strange stand out from the rest of the superhero genre is that the final battle, for all it’s CG-ness isn’t a big laser battle where two big machines/monsters level a city, it’s more a battle of minds. Yet it certainly isn’t a thinking person’s film!

The inclusion of multi-dimensional travel will make the future films very interesting indeed and could be the way Marvel reboots after the contracts of the original actors expire. Though I’d still rather see Deadpool kill the Marvel Universe!