Written by Joseph Palmer
Since Civil War was utterly incredible, I came to Doctor Strange with a sense of hesitation. As a long time Marvel fan, I’ve stood by them through the good times (Iron Man 1) and the bad (Iron Man 2), and they haven’t truly disappointed me to a painful degree. Of course, however, disappointment is relative to whatever your expectations are, and expectations can often be affected by what you have recently experienced. If you go to an incredible theme park, and then to a second one the day after, it may be disappointing because the first one was so brilliant that everything else pales in comparison. Does Doctor Strange reflect that? Is it hindered by the fact Civil War was the best Marvel movie? Well, not really.
Lets begin with the good. Doctor Strange is very impressive on multiple levels. Not only has it got some of the best visuals in film history, bending the laws of time and space in ways that feel both natural and unnatural at the same moment, creating a viewing experience like no other, it also treats the new world it opens up as a positive trait that should be applauded, not something that should cause the filmmakers to tread on eggshells. And, it manages to do all this in one of the most surprisingly grounded Marvel films ever. It never feels like it goes too far – goes too insane. In fact, it reflects other more realistic Marvel films, films purposely meant to be set in a place somewhat close to reality (albeit a reality with aliens and other off-world creatures), more often than one might expect. At no point do we look around and think “This is the same world? That doesn’t work” because it never drops the ball. It dives head first into this story with a confidence that helps bring this new magical part of the world to life, allowing the audience to believe in what they’re seeing. You don’t have to worry about the umming and arring that DC seems to be doing with their extended universe, unsure what tone to keep for their films, trying way too hard to make them real but not too real but still real – Doctor Strange kicks down the door and says “This is the route we’re taking, and since we’re doing it, we’re going full on.” We get to explore a magical realm that opens itself up and extends itself infinitely, combining the real one with a new one flawlessly, in a similar way to how Ant-Man explored a world from a tiny perspective.
But its not just the world or the visuals that work (trust me, the visuals are insane, and I’m not going to ruin any of them here, as they’re a joy to watch), the story, whilst somewhat cut and paste, is pretty tightly written and enjoyable. And to fill that story you’ve got a plethora of characters to latch onto – though some of them are far more fleshed out than others. Cumberbatch as Strange is wonderful, consistently keeping a slightly unlikeable tone to him, similar to that of his role in Sherlock, yet playing someone who is determined and kind of heart, even if his morals are somewhat bent at moments.
Tilda Swinton, though whitewashed in a surprisingly not too bad way (seriously, whitewashing in Hollywood is awful, but people are looking in the complete wrong direction, people need to actually be furious consistently at Ghost in the Shell, that’s not only whitewashing it’s a disgraceful insult to humanity), is brilliant – she gives the well tread role of origin story teacher new life by allowing them to be human in ways never really seen before. She gives her character meaningful thoughts on the universe – whilst making sure she’s not simply entirely good, entirely bad or entirely middling, finding the perfect balance between what’s right and what is necessary.
Other characters are pretty good I guess, but they don’t stand out too much. Mads Mikkelsen is in the film for what feels like 20 minutes, but its probably significantly more. But, unfortunately, his impact was minimal – he’s a good bad guy, but he doesn’t become more than just a bad guy. Want some real back story? It’s there…probably, but its basically the same as most any other Marvel villain. Give us characters like Zemo – characters with motivations that are explored, making their actions have a definitive purpose and meaning. I don’t want a serviceable villain – I want an amazing one. This doesn’t, however, kill the film. Even Guardians of the Galaxy, a near perfect Marvel film, has one of the most forgettable villains in the entire extended universe and that managed to be wonderful through other elements. Doctor Strange is still great, still an awesome experience, but really could’ve been pushed a little harder in the character department.
The sets and props and everything like that are great, it all works, the sound design is excellent, and as a film it works beautifully. Audiences are going to, and already do, love it, because it’s just a great film from many perspectives. But of course, every film has issues, some of which I’ve already spoken about, but here’s some more.
The film is a little lacking in it’s finale, feeling like they almost stumbled through it. Within minutes of reaching the third act, the film is over, and we’re left somewhat confused and disappointed to a degree – though it doesn’t really impact the film too much as enough exciting stuff happens to make it work. Marvel is still doing its credit sequences, which drive me crazy, since I hate sitting in a cinema through the credits waiting to see a 2 minute clip of another film I have to wait a year or so for. The film has a few too many quips, though if you removed them all you’d have a film that takes itself way to seriously, so I wouldn’t say its an issue to have them, though when they are happening every 5 minutes it becomes somewhat irritating. Finally, Doctor Strange tries to include a love story, or at least some sexual tension between characters, but fails due to its inability to focus in on it in scenes, instead choosing to hop around talking about loads of other stuff. It almost feels like it desperately wants to show you new magical stuff in every scene and, in a way, tries to push everything else out of the way for that purpose.
Doctor Strange is a very good film. It’s definitely the best origin film of one singular hero, and probably in the top 3 Marvel films alongside Civil War and Guardians. If you love sci-fi, comic books and good cinema, this will please you, as it manages to create an interest new world within a world that seems like it will play brilliantly into future Marvel films.