Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Scott Derrickson
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong, Benjamin Bratt, Michael Stuhlbarg, Scott Adkins.
For a long time the DC comic book adaptations have been rather dark and grim, both in content and look, while the Marvel comic adaptations have been lighter in tone and more colourful and creative, boasting some great special effects and strong characterisations. And this is indeed true of Doctor Strange, which gives us yet another origins story for a Marvel superhero. Although created by artist Steve Ditko in 1963, Doctor Strange is one of the lesser known characters in the Marvel stable. But, like the previous Antman and Guardians Of The Galaxy, the character yields one of the better movies in the Marvel cinematic universe.
Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant but incredibly arrogant and self-centred neurosurgeon who loves the lavish lifestyle that his skills have provide him. But then a car accident sees his suffer extensive nerve damage in his hands, thus depriving him of his livelihood. When western medicine and science seem unable to help him restore the use of his hands, he turns in desperation to eastern mysticism and religion for help. Following the advice from a former but embittered patient he refused to treat because there was no glory in it, Strange travels to Nepal and a mystical world known as Kamar-Taj.
There he encounters an androgynous mystic known as The Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton) and her assistant Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor, from 12 Years A Slave, etc), who reluctantly teach him in the ways of manipulating time and the multiple dimensions of the universe. Through a series of arduous training sessions Strange learns not only some martial arts and sorcery and how to travel through other dimensions, but also a sense of humility. And he also finds some special powers with the help of a magical cloak with a mind of its own.
He is also facing dark forces set on destroying the world, led by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen, tv’s Hannibal Lecter). A former disciple who embraced the dark side of his powers, Kaecilius plans to use his dark knowledge to open a mysterious portal to the Dark Dimension ruled by the evil Dread Dormammu.
Some the plotting may seem a little formulaic and will do your head in as you try to get around the concept of the multiverse and interdimensional travel. However, Doctor Strange is a visually ambitious project that boasts some of the most spectacular CGI visual effects seen on screen for a long time, a lot of them created here in Australia. There are some vertiginously ingenious and inventive effects that see whole buildings fold in upon themselves and change shape. There is one scene in which Strange fights villains inside a revolving corridor in which the walls continue to fold in on themselves and change shape, which comes across like a familiar scene from Christopher Nolan’s Inception on steroids. And cinematographer Ben Davis gives us a trippy psychedelic sequence that will remind many of the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. As is often the case with these big budget special effects driven fantasies, the 3D effects don’t really add much to the film though.
The director is Scott Derrickson, who has previously made a few supernatural themed films like Deliver Us From Evil and The Exorcism Of Emily Rose and the strangely inert remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still with Keanu Reeves, and he initially seems a strange choice for this big budget special effects driven film based on a comic book. But apparently Derrickson was a huge fan of the character and Doctor Strange was one of his personal favourites. He and co-writers Jon Spaights and C Robert Carghill remain relatively faithful to Ditko’s initial creation with this origins story and by not taking things too seriously they capture the spirit of the source material.
Doctor Strange is the 14th film in the Marvel cinematic universe, and as with many other Marvel characters the strength lies in the casting. Much as Robert Downey jr brought Tony Stark/Iron Man to life on the big screen, so too does Cumberbatch (best known for playing television’s Sherlock Holmes) bring Doctor Strange alive with a solid performance. Cumberbatch has charm to spare and he brings a wonderful sarcastic humour to the role that suits the once gifted surgeon. But he also has a physicality that suits the character.
The supporting cast includes Benedict Wong (The Martian, etc) as the wise manservant Wong, the keeper of Kamar-Taj’s ancient library, and Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, a fellow surgeon and love interest for our hero. As Kaecilius, Mikkelsen is wasted playing a super villain who is a little too one dimensional.
And as usual, Marvel has included a post credit sequence teaser, and this one hints that Doctor Strange will be included in the next Avengers adventure.