Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt
The fourteenth comic book film released by Marvel Studios has a different cook in the kitchen, but unfortunately horror movie director Scott Derrickson is working with the same tired ingredients. Doctor Strange is a kaleidoscopic adventure that aims to present the standard superhero origin story in new light, or at least different colors. The cast, containing multiple Oscar nominees and winners, raises the pedigree, but too often that isn’t enough. Derrickson and crew borrow ideas from The Matrix visual style, Bruce Wayne’s origin story, some sequences even have The Last Airbender similarities. Doctor Strange doesn’t exist on the big screen because of some high demand, it’s there because it’s the next box to check on Marvel’s list.
Arrogance is what ultimately leads Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) to the bottom of a New York City mountain, following high driving while texting. The once great surgeon is now a trembling injury victim spending all his time and energy trying to find a way back to normalcy. Strange hears about a healer of sorts in Nepal, where he spends his last dollar to beg on the doorstep of The Ancient One (Swinton). It’s here that Strange will finally learn his greatest lesson, that life is about more than just one’s self. “Heroes like the Avengers protect the world from physical dangers. We safeguard it against more mystical threats,” Strange is told. The mystical threats come calling and Strange will be forced choose between his old life and the new calling.
Derrickson succeeds in making this film stand apart visually from anything else we have seen in the past ten years of comic book adaptations.
New York is certainly a crowded place with all the superheroes living in one spot, but since the city now has nearby mountainous cliffs, per this film, I guess perhaps it’s expanding. Derrickson succeeds in making this film stand apart visually from anything else we have seen in the past ten years of comic book adaptations. What he can’t overcome is how inundated the public is with this universe of heroes. Stripped down to the basics, they all have the same story; self-reinvention, save the world. Actors like Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Ejiofer (12 Years a Slave), and Swinton (Snowpiercer) bring more credibility to this story than anything visual. Despite her controversial gender flipped casting, Swinton’s limited screen time are the films highlights.
In this “multiverse” they call it, the expansion of good and evil is great, adding to the already jam packed universe of threats and information we are supposed to retain from all the other connected films. Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) is the film’s real antagonistic threat, although it doesn’t spend enough time developing his fall from The Ancient One’s order to understand why he is evil. He is more of a “earth needs to be destroyed” type villain, at least until the big face in the sky appears as the real threat. With these films, more is always seen as more. For instance, the car crash, couldn’t have been a believable accident, instead he must drop hundreds of feet off a cliff, landing with such a smash, you must activate your suspension of disbelief before we even get to the fantasy stuff.
Derrickson’s kaleidoscopic presentation can only distract the viewer from the habitual comic book plot for so long.