Things are about to get...strange. The fourteenth film in Marvel's titanic Cinematic Universe sees Benedict Cumberbatch grappling with magic and the ethereal as Doctor Strange.
They've tackled outer space and mystical realms; now Marvel are delving deeper into the weird by adapting the origins of Dr Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), an arrogant neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands in a terrible car crash.
Unable to work and overcome with frustration at his inability to heal, Strange leaves behind his coworker and sort of girlfriend Christine (Rachel McAdams) and journeys to Nepal to find a mythical temple called Kamar-Taj in the hopes of finding a less conventional way of repairing his crippled hands.
Here he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a whole bunch of powerful sorcerers who harness the power of the universe to conjure spells and manipulate the matter around them through infinite alternate universes. He discovers that their order is threatened by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a wayward master who draws power from something ominous called the Dark Dimension.
Marvel have an enviable track record of taking niche characters and making them easily accessible for general audiences. Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man; who would've thought that they'd one day become household names? Well, I'm happy to report that they've done it again in Doctor Strange - though conventional and formulaic at times, Doctor Strange is yet another impressive bout from the champ that opens the series up to boundless possibilities going forward.
Cumberbatch gives an entertaining performance that is a mixture of Tony Stark, Dr House and his own Sherlock Holmes. His American accent is a little patchy at times or maybe I'm just used to his crisp English inflections from Smaug, Khan and Sherlock. The best thing about Strange as a character is that his arc is really clearly laid out and satisfying; formulaic, but still satisfying.
Swinton and Ejiofor are great too; The Ancient One and Mordo are fleshed out and serve as a yin/yang dichotomy for Strange to learn from. One is wise and accepting; the other is rigid and kinda grumpy. By the end of the film they too have grown and changed through a narrative that projects forward into the future.
Director Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil) succeeds at telling a concise, easy-to-understand story whilst also showcasing the endless possibilites of a character like Doctor Strange. The psychadelic, kaleodoscopic visuals in this film are INCREDIBLE, with one sequence stretching through dozens of incredible dimensions and universes. If you get the chance to see it play out in IMAX or other large formats, don't pass it up.
Furthermore, Derrickson (who also cowrote the screenplay) is able to make silly MacGuffins like The Eye of Agamotto and The Cloak of Levitation slot into the narrative without getting bogged down. When Wong the librarian (Benedict Wong) is delivering lengthy exposition about three sacred Sanctums split across the globe that help defend the Earth from the Dark Dimension, even the freshest of fans like myself can follow along and enjoy the film.
The Verdict: 8/10
Doctor Strange may fall victim to the same pratfalls as other Marvel properties, but the length and breadth of Derrickson's colourful visuals are too impressive to deny. The film is able to boil a complex character down into a tight origin narrative that wisely foregrounds the dynamic trio of Cumberbatch, Swinton and Ejiofor.
Doctor Strange is in cinemas across Australia now