Doctor Strange is the latest addition to the Marvel universe – and it doesn’t disappoint.
Benedict Cumberbatch, best known for portraying Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series Sherlock, stars as Doctor Stephen Strange, a brilliant surgeon who is in a horrific car crash and suffers irreparable damage to the nerves in his hands. Distraught, and unable to find a cure with Western medicine, he heads to Nepal to seek out a spiritual sanctuary that has helped similar patients. Of course, being Marvel, it’s not just about chakras and spiritual well being, and soon Doctor Strange is learning about all kinds of mystical powers and parallel dimensions from the Ancient One (a difficult-to-read Tilda Swinton).
Inevitably, there is also a bad guy, who, along with one of the Ancient One’s former students, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), is trying to take over (or maybe destroy, it’s not very clear) the world. Soon, Strange must decide if he’s going to help save the world or just focus on healing himself.
Cumberbatch is the standout star of the film: he nails the arrogant, sceptical Strange, who consistently questions and challenges everything he is told, and it’s refreshing to have a superhero who relies on scientific reasoning and logic and doesn’t blindingly accept all the fantastical things that are thrown at him.
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Rachel McAdams plays Strange’s colleague and former girlfriend Christine Palmer with conviction, and it’s a shame she doesn’t get more screen time.
The concept of multiple dimensions is an interesting one, and in some ways the film blends fantasy and reality – we know there are other universes out there, even if we aren’t capable of understanding them yet. The cinematic effects used to highlight this are impressive without being overkill; scenes that expand, multiply and just generally ignore the rules of physics portray the overlapping dimensions, but it can be dizzying to watch at times. In many ways, it explores the same themes as films like Interstellar, and prompts the audience to stop and think about our place in this world... and beyond.
Most of the film however, is firmly rooted in this world, and the settings range from New York to Nepal. Hong Kong audiences will love the scenes set in the heart of Kowloon. Director Scott Derrickson has done a great job of perfectly capturing the essence of the city in a few short clips, complete with street food stalls, hanging roast duck, green mini buses, and even a fight scene on some bamboo scaffolding.
Sure, there are parts that don’t really make sense, and perhaps that is partly Derrickson playing up the fact that there is a lot we still don’t know about the universe beyond our planet, but what superhero movie prides itself on being realistic?
The problem is that the story feels a bit stretched. It’s not very clear why Doctor Strange decides to embrace the sorcerer thing at all. There is no defining moment or sequence that cements him as the hero. Instead, he remains adamant that he doesn’t want to be involved in it at all. So while of course he eventually does don the superhero cloak, it feels a bit random.
It would also have been nice if a little more time had been spent explaining the bad guy behind it all, and why exactly he wants Earth, as this feels underdeveloped. On balance, because it doesn’t delve into things too deeply, the film doesn’t leave any gaping unanswered questions, so it works well as a standalone, which is where other Marvel films sometimes fall short.
Yes, it’s still a typical superhero origin story, but it’s a pretty good one, setting audiences up for what is sure to be the first of many Doctor Strange appearances in the Marvel universe.