Doctor Strange Review: Stuart Keating’s Verdict

Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swilton, Mads Mikkelsen
Viewed: Showcase Cinema De Lux, Leicester, 25/10/16

Okay, so here it is, Marvel Studios second outing of 2016, and the first time we will have seen Doctor Strange being portrayed on the big screen. I will confess to having little to no knowledge about this character from the comics, in fact, I don’t have a great knowledge of the Marvel comics full stop, despite being a big fan of the films they have spawned. Many may consider me to not be a ‘true’ fan, but I personally enjoy going into the films with no preconceived notions of what to expect, and being able to view each film with an open mind. This film had all the elements for it to be up there with some of the best films of 2016, so was it any good? Yes, it was. Was it as great as I had hoped it would be? No, unfortunately it stumbled in several ways, some of which have become all too familiar within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

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Benedict Cumberbatch plays Doctor Steven Strange, an arrogant, rich, brilliant neurosurgeon, but after an accident which will end his career, he is forced into searching for a way to heal himself, and begins his journey into the world of the mystic arts. So, lets begin with the positives. This film is a visual masterpiece, comparable to films like The Matrix or Inception, though it may even be fair to say that they take it one step further in Doctor Strange, it truly is a mind bending experience.

The majority of the cast do a brilliant job, which is no surprise when looking at the roster of actors in this film, and Benedict Cumberbatch embraces his role as our protagonist in a way that is only rivalled by Robert Downey Junior’s Iron Man. This film is a hell of a lot of fun, and is thoroughly enjoyable, from the Doctor’s origin to getting to grips with the newly founded element of a multiverse within the MCU. Now, here’s where things become very interesting. Up until this point, the MCU has had all manner of heroes, villains, planets and galaxies introduced to expand the ever growing universe, but none have/will change the game quite so much as the inter-dimensional travel that is introduced in this film. It works brilliant within the realms of Doctor Strange, but I am struggling to see how it can be incorporated into the rest of the MCU, especially when Doctor Strange himself makes his appearance in Avengers: Infinity War (in 2018).

The tone of Doctor Strange will be all too familiar to those who have been following the rest of Marvel Studios work. Serious scenarios, sprinkled with quips and jokes for some comic relief. The humour is usually a nice addition, however, between Star Lord, Iron Man, Ant Man and the banter between we have witnessed in The Avengers films, it does seem to be a common occurrence within the MCU, and it does beg the question if it is always necessary. It does seem at the moment that the next Avengers instalment could just be an hour of one liners.

There is a major downfall in Doctor Strange, and it is an issue that has plagued the MCU. Loki has been the only truly great villain we have had the fortune of seeing on-screen so far, and Kaecilius does nothing to change this. It is a shame, as I really love Mads Mikkelsen as an actor, and whilst his character is given a brief back-story, it is not fleshed out enough to give him enough depth, and he’s ultimately just another bad guy in a long line of bad guys. The final act of the film also leaves a bit of a bland taste in the mouth, providing a very lacklustre conclusion to the story being told. Though I won’t spoil anything, if you are planning to see the next Avengers instalment, this film will be pivotal in its set up, so I’d advise making the trip to see it.

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Doctor Strange is a fun, thrilling and stunning watch, with fantastic performances from everyone, and a tight story. Its action scenes are well shot, though there is a lack of a sense of danger due to their other worldly settings. As a stand alone film, it is solid enough, even if it does fall a bit at the last hurdle. It will be a bit formulaic for those who have been following the MCU, and I am still struggling to see how Doctor Strange will fit in with the other heroes. Inter-dimensional travel could add an exciting new element to the MCU, though I am concerned that Avengers: Infinity War could quite easily turn into a bit of an over-saturated mess. For now I will remain both curious and sceptical. I believe the cast and brilliant use of CGI did wonders for Doctor Strange, otherwise I feel it would have come across as a bland but a necessary instalment in Marvel’s continued development of the universe that it’s been building for eight years.

Oh and for the love of god, please do not leave the cinema until all of the credits have finished! For those who are still unaware, every Marvel film has a post-credits scene, and in Doctor Strange’s case, it has two, so stick around until the very end!

Doctor Strange is an enjoyable – 7/10

Fun fact: Benedict Cumberbatch was one of four major Hollywood actors considered for the role of Doctor Strange, the other three being Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto and Joaquin Phoenix. Leto and Gosling also went on to audition for the role of The Joker in the DC Cinematic Universe, with Leto being successful and making his first appearance in Suicide Squad (2016).

By Stuart Keating