THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS
Prior to release, out of all the characters in Marvel comics, very few were as popular as Doctor Strange, that still had not received their own film. As the years have gone by, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has continued to evolve, with the introduction of the cosmos in Guardians of the Galaxy and the introduction of magic with Doctor Strange.
Doctor Strange tells the story of Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a renowned surgeon who, after a brutal car accident, is left unable to operate. Desperate to regain the use of his hands, he travels to Nepal to learn the mystic arts, where he becomes entangled in a fight to save the universe.
Firstly, the films boasts arguably the most stunning visual effects in the MCU. The scenes featuring the astral plane and the alternate dimensions are well crafted, with the opening sequence, in particular, looking extraordinary. The action that takes place within the astral plane and alternate dimensions are inventive and director Scott Derrickson proves himself more than capable of helming exciting action sequences despite his background largely revolving around the horror genre.
Another aspect of the film that succeeds with is its humour. Although it follows Marvel’s typical approach to comedy, it is arguably more successful than the majority of other MCU films as none of the jokes fall flat, something which happens frequently when watching other MCU films. What is really surprising, is that the best of the comedy on offer revolves around the Cloak of Levitation and its interactions with Strange.
There are four standout performances in Doctor Strange that elevate the film, adding a real sense of humanity to the film. Tilda Swinton is brilliant as the Ancient One. She steals the show, remaining the most interesting character in the film. There was some controversy of white-washing with her casting, as the character in the comics is traditionally, of Asian descent. Fortunately, Swinton’s performance as the sorcerer has been considered good enough, by comic book fans, to ignore the issues around her casting. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Mordo, a complex man who, by the end of the film, begins his journey towards a darker path. His performance is, like the character, complex and I cannot wait to see what Marvel do with the character in the future. The Benedict duo (Cumberbatch and Wong) also fit in perfectly within the MCU, with Cumberbatch’s Strange seemingly destined to be the next leader of the MCU, similar to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. That being said, Cumberbatch’s attempt at an American accent leaves a lot to be desired.
Doctor Strange, like the majority of MCU films, has a serious villain problem. Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) is about as forgettable a villain as you can get. He offers nothing to set himself apart from other MCU villains which have themselves been labelled forgettable such as Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) and Malakith (Christopher Eccleston). There really is nothing to say about him other than he is incredibly forgettable, and was a complete waste of Mads Mikkelsen’s talents and time.
Most MCU films, with the exception of a couple (The Incredible Hulk and Thor), have third acts that are, at the very least, entertaining. The same cannot be said for Doctor Strange. The third act is quite frankly, terrible. Strange creates a time loop and essentially holds Kaeciliu’s boss, Dormammu, hostage until he agrees to simply pack up and go away. It was a good idea from the writers to try something different with the third act, however, it simply did not work and ends up being anti-climatic.
Lastly, the major problem with Doctor Strange is that it totally wastes its talented cast. Despite having the talents of Rachel McAdams, Michael Stuhlbarg and Benjamin Bratt, none of them are given anything of significance to do. McAdams is stuck being a nurse that helps Strange out and although it is implied that there is history between her and Strange, it is never expanded on and therefore, her character feels entirely unnecessary. As for Stuhlbarg, it is disgraceful that an actor of his calibre is nothing more than the butt of jokes from Strange. The only acceptable excuse for casting Stuhlbarg in the role is that Stuhlbarg himself refused a major role in the film. I’m still not sure why Derrickson even bothered casting Stuhlbarg as his character remains one of the most insignificant not just in Doctor Strange, but in the entire MCU. The same could be said for Benjamin Bratt’s character, who ends up being nothing more than an exposition machine.
In the end, Doctor Strange is a fun but ultimately forgettable entry in the MCU. Propelled by stunning visuals, the film serves as a fine introduction to magic within the MCU but leaves a lot to be desired.