As soon as they cast Benedict Cumberbatch in the role of Stephen Strange, we all knew Marvel couldn’t go far wrong with this one. Put one of the world’s most beloved actors in a comic book adaptation from one of the world’s most beloved comic book publishers, and you’ve already built a strong foundation for a winner.
But the film didn’t coast on this knowledge. Not only did Doctor Strange promise greatness, but the film thoroughly delivered.
Visually, Doctor Strange was a marvel (hehe). Remember that scene in Labyrinth with the stairs? Mix that with the scene in Inception, where Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fighting and floating in a gravity-free hallway within a dream. Only in the opening scenes of Doctor Strange, it’s not just a staircase or a hallway being given the physics-bending treatment. It’s entire buildings, converging on one another, folding and twisting and shifting around each other.
The film also throws a huge handful of fantasy into the mix, with magical weapons, time and space-manipulation, and levitation providing a refreshing break from some of the usual superhero antics we’re getting used to seeing. This means that Doctor Strange feels like a dose of the pure escapism you can only get from seeing someone wave their hands around to perform magic.
In terms of character development, Doctor Strange does surprisingly well for a film. Stephen Strange isn’t even an anti-hero. He isn’t a Han Solo or a Harry Clayton (Stan Lee’s Lucky Man). At the start of the film, he’s a full-on arrogant, selfish, borderline insufferable genius. And by the end… well, no spoilers, but he isn’t the same man he was before. Most importantly, the film handles this transition well. It’s a natural transition, not a forced one.
Naturally, Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant (and even if he wasn’t, I would find that hard to admit), and joined by Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams, it would be hard to complain about the cast. In fact, my only complaint would probably be that I wanted more Mads Mikkelsen. But I guess you can’t have everything.
The film isn’t laugh-out-loud-funny (at least not for me), but the writing does inject some humour. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it doesn’t feel dark and solemn. The pacing is good, I didn’t feel bored watching, and there’s just the right balance of action and smart writing. It’s exciting, intriguing, and just human enough to feel grown-up.
I’ll keep this review short, because otherwise I’m in danger of wandering into spoiler territory. Doctor Strange is a great Marvel movie, but it’s also a great standalone movie. It’s different, and that’s something which might appeal to people who aren’t usually fans of Marvel. It’s also different enough for you to love even if you’ve just marathoned every film Marvel have done since Iron Man. Even if you have superhero fatigue (something which hasn’t hit me quite yet).
Sure, there’s a lot of hand-wavey magic and a large portion of the film takes place at a school of sorcery hidden in Tibet. But since when was that a bad thing?
Images: Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios