Review: Doctor Strange (2016) — Highly entertaining despite origin story tropes

doctor strange benedict cumberbatch

Marvel’s Doctor Strange

Movie review

Doctor Strange is the 14th instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) after Captain America: Civil War (2016). It serves as both the origin story of the titular superhero and one of the linkups towards Avengers: Infinity War (2018). Multiple award winning actor and 2015 Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game, Sherlock TV series) stars as Stephen Strange who’s a top neurosurgeon until one night, he gets into a devastating car accident. In hopes of repairing his severely damaged hands, he travels to Kamar-Taj and learns the magical, mystic art. He then finds himself forced in between a war between his teacher the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her now-evil former student Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).

Although it seemed like a strange (no pun intended) choice to have hired Scott Derrickson (Deliver Us From Evil, Sinister), a horror specialist, as the director and co-screenwriter a superhero film, Marvel has once again managed to deliver a highly entertaining superhero flick with a great balance of impressive action sequences and humour. The only problems with the film are quite common in the genre. It has a very typical, basic origin story and three-act structure that we’ve experienced plenty of times before in the genre. And to maintain its fast-paced fun and less dramatic tone, the film sacrifices proper development of the characters’ arcs, particularly Ancient One’s student Karl Modor, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (Triple 9, 12 Years a Slave).

modor doctor strange still

The film has a great cast and even though not everyone of them are giving enough to work with, they provide the much needed presence and charm. Cumberbatch is perfect for the titular role and performed very well as the intelligent, arrogant and hilariously sarcastic doctor (like a young House M.D.). However, the first arc is a little rushed. It feels that there’s one scene short of him being a self-centred asshole before he crushes his hands resulting a weaker before-and-after personality and less defining moment when he learns that “it’s not about him”.

Strange’s training process seems too simple and vague. All he does is reading and waving his fingers around to acquire mystic abilities. The romance between Strange and Christine Palmer, played by Rachel McAdams (Spotlight, Southpaw), also feels like a convenience. There were criticisms for not casting an Asian actor for the role of the Ancient One but Tilda Swinton did very well for the role — mysterious, wise, strong and subtly fierce. The antagonist Kaelicious, portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt, Hannibal TV series), is quite a boring one-noter like most villains in solo Marvel superhero films. There are many more questions not even indicated but the film does advise to “open your mind”, ignore all that and just enjoy the ride.

doctor strange movie meme

As Doctor Strange’s abilities and enemies involve largely with magic, the special effects had to be top notch and I’m pleased to say that it is a very cool and trippy viewing experience (no shrooms or even 3D glasses required). Earth and skyscrapers bending into shapes and folded as manipulated by the characters — imagine a battle of magic and martial arts during a dream scene in Inception (2011) while the camera moves or rotates in a single shot. The busy street of a city reversing in time and freezes during a group fight. The way that the hero prevents the ultimate world destruction at the end is surprisingly unique (and hilarious) as well. I can’t imagine the amount of effort required in the planning and execution for all of this awesomeness. Harry Pot-who?

Now that the origin story is done, fans should expect weirder and cooler stuff if there is to be a sequel, which Derrickson and the other co-writer Christopher Robert Cargill (Sinister) have apparently planned (source). Hopefully that would include a heavier and more complex storyline as well. Definitely wouldn’t mind seeing the Cloak of Levitation steal a couple of scenes in any future MCU films.

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Post-credit scene: As usual in MCU movies, there are mid and post-credit scenes. The mid-credit scene features an Avenger with dialogues hinting about one of the next MCU instalments. If you’re a fan, you won’t want to miss that. The post-credit one, on the other hand, progresses the arc of an underdeveloped Doctor Strange character.

What I would’ve named the film: “House M.D. in Wonderland”

Malaysian censorship: “Asshole” or something like was muted. And I believe that’s all that’s censored.

To watch in 3D? Initially I thought this film was going to be perfect for IMAX 3D but it felt two-dimensional at most parts just like most of the other films that were also only converted into the format in post-production. I think audiences would enjoy the visuals just as much in normal 2D screenings.

Verdict: If I were to rank all 14 MCU films to date, I think I would place Doctor Strange at 7th.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

doctor strange movie poster malaysiaBased on: Marvel Comic’s “Doctor Strange” created by Steve Ditko

Genre: Superhero, action, fantasy
Running Time: 115 minutes
Director: Scott Derrickson
Screenwriters: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams

Malaysia Release Date: 27 October 2016
Rated: P13
Local Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Malaysia
Production: Marvel Studios

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