Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen
Director: Scott Derrickson
Synopsis: Surgeon extraordinaire Dr. Stephen Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) life changes after a car accident robs him of the use of his hands. When traditional Western medicine fails him, he looks elsewhere for healing and hope but quickly learns that the sanctuary he has found is at the front line of a battle against unseen dark forces bent on destroying reality.
Marvel delivers a strong origin story that while formulaic manages to feel fresh with an incredible array of visual and special effects bolstered by the strong performances of the central cast.
The idea of origin stories for comic book movies is, in this era of constant superheroics on the big screen, met with disdain and seen as almost a necessary evil in order to introduce new characters into these interconnected universes. The most notable example is Spider-Man, who had two very similar origin stories represented within a decade of each other and now Marvel (who are sharing the big screen rights for the wall crawler) are purposefully NOT doing an origin story in their joint venture with Sony due next year. DC attempted a fresh take on Superman’s beginnings with the opinion-splitting Man of Steel while their latest version of Batman needed no introduction and was already active at the beginning of Batman V Superman.
Of course not every character is as recognisable as those mentioned above so origin stories are needed. Some new characters can be slotted into the latest team-up movie and deliver on promises that their first solo movie would not be an origin story (as Marvel head Kevin Feige has recently stated about Black Panther). The trick seems to be providing something a bit different in order to hide the standard origin story. Guardians of the Galaxy hid the origin of the team within a dysfunctional family dynamic covered in laughs and retro pop music and the forthcoming Wonder Woman outing will be set during The Great War while featuring mythological aspects, adding a very different aesthetic to the comic book movie than we’ve seen previously.
Doctor Strange proudly holds its origin tale out for all to see which is a brave considering how closely this take on the character can be compared to the on-screen architect of the Marvel Universe, Tony Stark aka Robert Downey Jr.. Pompous and arrogant, Strange has to face his own mortality and loss before stepping up and taking responsibility for the situation he finds himself in, similar to the journey Stark had in the original Marvel Universe film Iron Man. Unlike Stark, Strange finds himself surrounded and immersed within the world of the mystic arts as Marvel deftly brings more magic into the Cinematic Universe which now seems even bigger than before.
It is this magic that allows the film to truly come alive as the director, cinematographer and what must be an army of effects guys turn the world upside-down and inside-out, bringing an amazing visual style to the movie which continually challenges you to keep up with the ongoing action and spectacle before your eyes. The world is brought to life in reality-warping glory that, as many critics have noted, echoes the visual style of Inception which is a complete and utter compliment.
Cumberbatch also plays a key part in bringing the audience into this new realm of the MCU, mixing his own version of Sherlock with a hint of Tony Stark and Hugh Laurie’s Gregory House to create the eponymous lead role while the wonderful Tilda Swinton and charismatic Ejiofor bolster the supporting cast with their usual brilliant performances. Although McAdams and Mikkelson are more than capable actors in their own right, the roles given to them here are stock love interest and disposable Marvel villain respectively, which unfortunately undermines the work between Cumberbatch, Swinton and Ejiofor as they debate their own moral views in a very grey world.
Finally it wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without a handful of glib one-liners and visual gags which will either entertain or frustrate you. Several moments of comedy felt almost forced however the moments that did land (Beyonce for example) were well-timed and worked within the confines of the story. Marvel are unlikely to change the formula for their films anytime soon as it continues to work its magic once more, this time assisted by a wonderful array of effects that capture the weird and wacky multi-dimensional world of Dr Strange and almost concealing the fact that at its heart this is simply another good origin story.
Trailer and a little bonus from Jimmy Kimmel;