Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Superhero.
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Scott Adkins, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Benjamin Bratt, Michael Sruhlbarg.
Year Of Release: 2016
Certificate: 12A (UK)/PG-13(US)
Runtime: 115 Minutes
Director: Scott Derrickson
Synopsis: “A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts.” IMDB
From the off, this doesn’t break the winning Marvel formula. Why would it? Much like the James Bond franchise, if something isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Sure, you have a few dips along the way, but most of the time, you pay to see something you are comfortable with and know what to expect. Marvel deliver a simple foundation to which they build of extravagant action, layered characters and far-reaching stories than go beyond the film they are in; it’s a long standing investment in you, the audience, to stick with them on their journey.
And when you’ve hit the target near enough 13 times, it’s about time to shake things up a little and show what else you can do a as a multi-billion dollar franchise. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the big screen, Mister…? Doctor. Mister Doctor. No. Strange. Mister Strange – no, not Mister; just Doctor. Doctor Strange. Stepping out beyond Earth and space with our heroic Avengers and those motley crew who guard our galaxy, horror director Scott Derrickson takes us beyond our own dimension into the world of time looping, energy binding, material manipulation and mystical arts that transcends what we think we know about the Marvel universe. It’s a 2hr film that catapults you from one end of the universe to the other and back again in a film that is nothing but bold, brave and visually brilliant.
It’s an origin story first and foremost, which is fine, because not everyone knows about who or what Doctor Strange is. Who is he? What does he do? How does he become a sorcerer? What are those powers he has? These questions and more are answered in a very ‘Batman Begins’ fused with ‘Iron Man’ narrative. Benedict Cumberbatch can’t be flawed either as our arrogant hero; another risky move for Marvel in casting a British actor to play an American, but one who also has found more fame on the small screen and in supporting roles on the big screen. Here, he’s front and centre our leading man; our new Marvel hero to stand alongside established stars such as Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr and Chris Hemsworth.
With the balance of arrogance, humanity and fragility that all our heroes need from Bruce Wayne to Tony Stark, Stephen Strange is next in line for that treatment. With superb costume and make-up helping him, it’s another successful transition from page to screen. Our supporting cast do their bit too; Ejiofor, Wong and Swinton are thankfully more engaging than expected as our spiritual guides and teachers, each bringing something to the table with their characters, and are very likeable in their development. Swinton especially surprised me as being more in touch with humanity than I thought; I had visions of some typical hard-edged zen warrior. Rachel McAdams is always a delight, and while her time is limited and role just here to give Strange an anchor in the “real world”, it’s a shame she doesn’t get more to do because she’s a great actress and I hope she returns in future outings.
The villain, played with that wonderful villainous charm that Mads Mikkelsen brings to all his roles like Hannibal or Le Chiffre, does that again here with good-sorcerer-gone-bad Kaecilius. But he feels more like a place-holder for the “bigger” villain we may yet see. He’s doing bad things for good reasons, in his head anyway, and is limited to how and why he does what he does. Whenever he speaks though, you’re hooked – his delivery is perfect and his make-up is grim, and it’s a shame he couldn’t have been someone like Loki to transcend bigger threats and be a lasting villain for Strange and the MCU. Still, his time on screen is always exciting and he shares great chemistry with Strange. As the characters soar in this origin story, so to do the visual, albeit not as “ground-breaking” as I expected. This was as big a push in marketing as anything else for Marvel; the fact this was going to be a film unlike anything you’ve seen in the Marvel, or even comic book genre, on screen. And they are right, although you’ve seen most of the effects and visuals in trailers. Thankfully there ARE logical reasons within the story why cities fold on themselves, rooms elongate and flip around and the universe seems to be one big acid-trip. It’s like ‘Inception’, but on a much bigger scale. Kudos to ILM for creating a dizzying and mind-bending playground for our sorcerers to battle it out in.
I have to say the powers were always fun to watch; the Cloak of Levitation and the Eye of Agamotto all give way to some impressive and visually exciting action sequences and melee combat with practical effects and CGI blending into one. It’s very simple stuff, but done in a very visually impressive way. Cumberbatch always looks natural doing what we’d expect from a sorcerer like Strange; he looks good doing it and sells his place as a future hero. With a refreshing score by Michael Giacchino that throws in lots of new motifs, the whole package is familiar yet different. Maybe I expected a little more to the visual effects to what I’d already seen in trailers, or needed some more reasoning behind why it happens. And the pace does sag in the middle for me as characters make the usual dip trying to find their emotional core and spend time discovering their “potential” before letting rip in the third act. And it’s VERY refreshing to see a Marvel climax playing out in a destroyed city that re-builds itself in a reversal of time, with the characters working around it. Again, it’s stunning stuff to see and familiar, yet different.It may be hard for those now comfortable with the Earth-based action and established characters of the MCU to let go for a while and see new places and meet new faces in new dimensions, but it’s worth it in the end. It’s all going to pay off, you know it will, so stick with it and enjoy it for what it is; a new foundation for exciting things to come in the company of great actors and a mind-bending, journey through something that at times looks like the best non-drug experience of your life.