Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange is another home run hit for Marvel, successfully managing to introduce us to the mystical and magical roots of the character, while also engaging us with non-stop action sequences that are well-crafted and highly creative.
Doctor Strange is yet another fine example of Marvel Studios proving that they’re far from finished. Some may complain about the over-abundance of comic book movies in the movie world, but I guarantee you that Doctor Strange won’t be one of those complaints. It feels as fresh and exciting as Guardians of the Galaxy, only with a stronger focus on one character and his mystical roots.
Director Scott Derrickson brings a lot to the table with his first Marvel outing, co-writing the script with his go-to buddy C. Robert Cargill and Jon Spaihts. Together, the team manages to introduce us to one of Marvel’s most bizarre and dare I say strangest characters yet, in a way that gets you excited for the eventual sequel and tie-ins.
But that’s not all that Doctor Strange brings to the table. It’s also a genre-shifting action film that features some of the best use of both 3D and CGI effects as Derrickson’s film continuously creates set pieces that seem to go on forever. Some have compared its dream-like visuals and mind-bending plot to the likes of Christopher Nolan‘s Inception and the two are very different — I can definitely say that Strange goes much further into the dream-like adventure.
It does so with a hard focus on mystical magic, rooted in science, but opened up and explored in a way that feels ballsy and cool. The film wastes absolutely no time digging into the thick source material, with spells and magical powers being revealed in the opening minutes, while the rest of the film wisely paces the introduction of a completely new untouched Marvel world.
Director Scott Derrickson made a name for himself operating within the horror genre, which is where he managed to bring airtight pacing to some genuinely creepy and atmospheric horror films. Here, he brings that same level of patience to the film, constructing Doctor Strange as an origins story on the surface, but succeeding in telling so much more within the film’s condensed running time.
The film wastes almost no time digging into the character, his problems and what he’s going to do about it, yet Derrickson directs (and writes) it in a way that doesn’t feel rushed or unexplained.
There’s a lot going on in Doctor Strange and the film mostly benefits from all of the moving parts, keeping things feeling incredibly new, fresh and exciting. It might not have the humor of Guardians of the Galaxy, but it definitely has the original feel that pushes it away from being grouped in with Captain America, Iron Man and even Thor to some extent.
A bulk of why Doctor Strange works so well is the cast. Benedict Cumberbatch truly is the perfect man for the job, bringing a suave sense of importance to the character that initially comes off as a Tony Stark type, with belittling comments and arrogance galore, yet the character’s ability to find peace and humanity comes in a less shocking way.
Stark is that lovable dick that’s always going to be a dick, while Strange is a man that understands how to be humble. Watching Cumberbatch bring an easy-going sense of humor to such a strange (I know, I know) character helps make him relatable and interesting. His concentration and focus on studying and practice is definitely what makes Strange slightly more engaging than other “know-it-all” types that seem to have the world in their hands.
Rachel McAdams helps balance the human aspect, providing us with the only real “normal” character that Strange interacts with frequently and while she doesn’t do a heck of a lot, she definitely gives the film a feel of covering all of the bases and not diving completely into the unknown.
When we do dive into the unknown we are greeted with three diverse and defined characters, played with equally impressive talents by Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Swinton might perhaps be the most basic of the three, playing The Ancient One with a mostly straight face, but a face that adds importance to the role and gives Strange a figure to not only look up to, but to question as he moves through his journey.
Mads Mikkelsen is perhaps one of Marvel’s best casting in terms of “the bad guy”. His Kaecilius is a man motivated by misguided anger and aggression and while Marvel is known for turning in somewhat forgettable baddies (aside from Tom Hiddleston‘s Loki) — Mikkelsen really does a fine job making an impression. His less crazy, more calmly insane delivery makes the character almost relatable, despite his unshaken love for bringing darkness to the universe.
Lastly, but most importantly is Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s Mordo. Mordo may seem like another throwaway trainer character, with Mordo basically showing Strange everything he knows, yet Ejiofor manages to add some depth to the character, teetering on being a do-gooder that plays by the rules and a curious and slightly jealous partner that slowly starts to question the world and his place in it.
I love that Doctor Strange teases us about so much more, without feeling like simple sequel-talk for the sake of it.
There’s no doubt that Marvel is going to bring Strange into The Avengers at some point, especially given the last act’s comments about a certain stone — but at least Doctor Strange feels whole. There’s a strong sense of focus on the character and expanding the vast universe of the unknown in a way that feels settled and unafraid of taking its sweet time, yet Derrickson and his team of writers have managed to expand on the Strange mythos so far in such a short time.
I’m beyond excited for more Doctor Strange. Not just as the main character, but as a viable alternative to the rest of the Marvel bunch. I’m not complaining about the core Marvel characters, but I am praising the creativity and excitement behind this film and others like it.