Doctor Strange – Movie Review

Directed by Scott Derrickson

Characters:
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch)
The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton)
Baron Mordo (Chiwetal Ejiofor)
Christine (Rachel McAdams)
Wong (Benedict Wong)
Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen)

Doctor Strange is the 14th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, arguably the greatest – or at least smartest – movie franchise in history. 
Ever since Iron Man in 2008, Marvel have created an empire with their films, and the quality of these movies has been so consistent that people go into a Marvel production with high expectations, and critics often praise Marvel Studios’ work. 
As every film has been made, Marvel has expanded its arsenal. Iron Man was an incredibly strong opening entry. Captain America: The First Avenger explained the history in this cinematic universe Marvel was building. Thor introduced the idea of realms and the role of mythology. The Avengers changed the world of the comic book movie. Guardians of the Galaxy showed the world the scope of the universe in which all these characters exist. 
And now Doctor Strange has taken it a step further, possibly the most risky one yet. Magic. 
Up until now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has leaned towards science explaining everything, even the concept of realms and Scarlett Witch’s powers. That has now been abandoned, however. 
This is probably my biggest praise for Doctor Strange. It was so different, not only to other films in the MCU, but comic book movies in general, and the originality made it something authentic. Marvel have been experimenting with the ‘comic book’ genre lately, producing films that almost use it as a secondary genre. I would call Doctor Strange a science fiction film more than a comic book movie, and I’m glad I can say that. There’s a distinctive style to this movie that made it feel fresh, and director Scott Derrickson’s horror background also shines through in a good way (something which really caught me by surprise at the very beginning of the movie).
As is expected from a Marvel movie, the casting is perfect. Particularly compelling in this movie is the credibility and pedigree of the actors that are on display, an indication of how far comic book movies have come. Rachel McAdams’ character was good, as was her performance. Chiwetal Ejiofor, who is one of the best actors working today in my opinion, brings excellence to the character of Baron Mordo, someone who I hope to see go far in the MCU. Using this film as an introduction to the character was a great move, and it was nice to see some dynamics to him in this film as well. Tilda Swinton plays a commendable Ancient One, but the direction of the character itself felt cliched, at least to me. 
This movie was supposed to release in July, like Ant-Man did last year, but was changed to November. The reason? Marvel were pretty big on Benedict Cumberbatch playing the character, but he had scheduling conflicts because of Sherlock, the BBC show. So Marvel changed their own schedule just so Cumberbatch could play the part. I love that. And they made the right decision, because nobody could have played a better Doctor Strange. You can say this about every main character in this franchise, but the casting was perfect. If there’s one thing Marvel never gets wrong, it’s this. Cumberbatch brings a certain charisma to the role that nobody else could have, and even though he isn’t particularly the best person, Cumberbatch’s performance actually makes the character pretty likeable. The handling of the character as well, script-wise, was a really good job. 
There are certain films that you simply have to watch in a theatre, that you have to experience. This is most certainly one of them. Doctor Strange is so visually astounding, that even in this age of computer supremacy, I found myself asking ‘How is this possible?‘. It’s not just the way the visuals are crafted – which is flawless – but the action in the film makes use of this, with sequences that are incredibly original and seemed to have been a great challenge to film. I’m not the biggest advocator of visuals and CGI being a selling point in a movie, but with this one, it’s so smart and enthralling that it would be disrespectful to everyone that worked hard on them to not recognise the brilliance of it all. There are also several Easter eggs thrown in there that any comic book fan would appreciate.
Now, having said all that… This isn’t Marvel’s best work. 
Professional critics are praising this movie quite a bit, and in my opinion, it’s not justified. Doctor Strange is, by all means, a piece of art, and something that deserves to be remembered for years and years to come, but it has problems. 
Across fourteen films, for the majority, Marvel has had a serious villain problem. I thought that would be different with this film, because they got Mads Mikkelsen to play the antagonist. Maybe I expected too much, given the very acclaimed actor they cast, because this film seriously missed the mark with its villain. For the first half of the film, I thought Kaecilius would actually be a memorable bad guy, but after a point he just… Fades. His character falls out of focus, and his motivations and actions – which were being built pretty well up to that point – lost their way and left me wondering how such little attention could be given to the character. In the first half, he’s menacing, purposeful, reasoned, and pretty hands on, but then all of that just seems forgotten. Every other bad Marvel villain was at least bad from the start. Kaecilius felt like infinitely wasted potential. Take nothing away from Mikkelsen, though, as he delivers a strong, compelling performance. 
The structure and tone of this film are questionable. The second act was by far the strongest. The first, while alright, had one particular plot point that felt incredibly convenient, and also (I’m surprised nobody has pointed this out yet) quite unexplained. This very plot point kicks off Strange’s journey to becoming a sorcerer, and it feels incomplete that it was built around something so… Vague. If I have to credit it to anything, it’d be lazy screenwriting.
The second act is pretty great. As far as structure and story goes in this, it’s almost perfect. The film clearly peaked at this point.
The third act, though, is where Doctor Strange lost me. As already mentioned, the villain is basically ignored, and while the concept of what happens in the climax of this film is an interesting one, the execution didn’t hit the mark. After everything the movie had done up to this point, the way it all came together wasn’t as cohesive as it was meant to be, and the film felt a bit like a mess towards the end. 
Finally, I want to talk about the tone of the movie. Marvel have been known to interject quite a bit of humour in their films, and more often than not it works. With this film, though, there was simply far too much of it. Littered across this movie are so many incredible moments, but only a handful sunk in. Why? Because for most of them, the moment was completely lost thanks to an unwelcome quip or gag. If these decisions hadn’t been made, this film would have had a lot more weight to it than the actual final product does, and it feels like a shame because some of the areas in which humour is thrown in are pretty laughable (no pun intended). It baffles me how anyone can look at these important moments and decide to ruin them by losing the moment completely. 
I’ll finish though, on a high note. The two post-credits scenes in this movie are possibly the best Marvel has ever put in their films, especially the second one. Do not get up when the movie ends. 
Doctor Strange lost its way as the movie progressed, and had some questionable creative decisions in there. However, it deserves to be watched simply for the experience, the compelling, irreplaceable performances and the different feel to the film that makes it authentic and gives the comic book genre a breath of fresh air. If this film was made a few years ago, I probably would have called it one of the best movies ever. In the end though – and maybe this is just because Marvel have such a great track record – I walked out of Doctor Strange slightly disappointed with what I got. 
On a scale where M is the lowest, and R is the highest possible rating, with the highlighted letter being the rating:

Doctor Strange: MIHIR

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