The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is already a strange place, filled with men in high-tech armoured suits, super soldiers, gamma-powered green giants, Asgardian thunder gods, and wall-crawling teenagers. But it’s always been somewhat grounded in reality, even when there are talking trees and space raccoons running around on screen,
But the latest addition to the MCU, Doctor Strange, takes that strangeness to a whole different level.
Dr Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a genius neurosurgeon with an arrogant ego to boot, but a horrific car accident takes away the steady hands that are the lifeblood of his career. Made penniless by his desperation to find a cure, he travels to Nepal to seek a spiritual cure, but ends up discovering a, well, strange world of magic, spells and mysticism.
Since Stan Lee waved his magic character-creating wand and created Dr Strange in Strange Tales #110 back in 1963 together with artist Steve Ditko, the comics have always had a streak of psychedelic insanity about them – from the early stories involving weird otherworldly dimensions, to the current, more grounded but still weird stories about Strange defending magic itself.
The movie takes a similar approach, with the mystical elements formed by a combination of Inception-like reality bending, mind-boggling visuals and physical feats that could challenge the best the Avengers have to offer.
It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Cumberbatch as Strange – not only does he look the part (Strange’s signature beard really looks good on him, and he even manages to make that high-collared cloak/cape look cool), his voice and mannerism, as well as his comic timing and expressions, also make Strange, one of the more likable Marvel superheroes so far.
Sadly, most of the supporting characters are not as memorable – Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo is obviously there as a precursor to future Strange movies, Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius is another one in a long line of cookie-cutter two-dimensional villains in the MCU, and Rachel McAdams’ character is so completely pointless that I can’t even remember her name. That being said, Benedict Wong does well with what little screen time he has as librarian/warrior Wong, and Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One is like a cross between Ip Man and Morpheus of The Matrix (you half-expect her to offer Strange a blue or red pill at one point).
The action set pieces, however, are the main attraction of this movie, and one sortie in particular turns the entire city of New York into a battleground of folding realities and transforming landscapes. It’s a technique we’ve seen before in Inception, but Derrickson takes it to another level, utilising all sorts of creative camera angles and tricks as well as ramping up the action and mystical madness to give us a dizzying (in all senses of the word) and exhilarating visual experience.
And that’s not even the best action sequence in the movie … without giving too much away, let’s just say that there is one sequence that will make you wish you could turn back time just to see it again.
Magic is not exactly new in the MCU, of course. We’ve seen a certain degree of the fantastical with the Thor movies, and with the Scarlet Witch’s powers. But Doctor Strange is the first to really go in-depth into the mystical side of Marvel’s world, and in the process, pull a rabbit called “Multiverse” out of the hat. And if the post-credit scenes are anything to go by, don’t be expecting this magician to be disappearing from the MCU anytime soon.
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton