#REVIEW: “DOCTOR STRANGE”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
After a car accident leaves his hands with permanent nerve damage, hotshot neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) travels across the world in search of a way to get his life back. Instead, he discovers The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and the hidden world of mystic arts and alternate dimensions.
The comparisons between Doctor Strange and Inception are apt as both Films spend an immense chunk of their running time devoted to explaining what and how things are happening. This Film is an origin story, and after zooming through who Strange used to be, it starts running through the training of what he will predictably become. It starts off interesting at first, but quickly becomes monotonous and drab. Director Scott Derrickson injects humour into these scenes to lighten the Film up (likely to make the darker moments a little more child-friendly). The laughs are intended to make us a little more absorbed in all the mysticism and magic being introduced – but none of it feels organic. I chuckled a few times, but found the comedy to be forced and downright baffling.
While I can understand there would be a lot of explanation for this untold part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (filled with the requisite nods and references to the source material and the next Phase 3 Films), it takes away from all of the action scenes where everything we have heard and learned actually gets used. These scenes are wildly creative and visually spectacular, but they feel rushed and practically an afterthought in too many cases.
That said, the action scenes are not the only piece of Strange that is inventive. The whole Film packs in some genuinely incredible visuals at every turn that rank amongst the best of the year and arguably any Marvel Film. The level of detail is impeccable and borderline hallucinatory. Derrickson uses a wealth of colours to really illustrate these dimension hopping sequences, making them pop in unexpected ways. The visuals look great even during smaller moments where Strange is learning how to open portals or acting in his “astral plane”. All of these visuals help elevate the Film beyond the atypical origin story it tells. I can only begin to imagine how astounding the Film would look in IMAX 3D.
Cumberbatch slips into the role of Strange with ease and does a great job bringing the classic Marvel character to life. His American accent is near flawless and his command of the screen is unwavering. The scenes after his accident are exceptionally devastating. He gets to have a lot of fun in the role, despite how awkward some of his comedic and brash moments quickly become, and really brings out a distinctive personality that will fit in well within his future Avengers adventures.
Derrickson lines the Film with an incredibly talented Oscar-calibre roster of supporting players, but wastes nearly all of them in one-dimensional, underdeveloped roles. Swinton makes us overlook the ‘whitewashing’ controversy as The Ancient One, managing to be effectively mysterious and interesting throughout. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo spends too much of the Film sidelined to the background, brooding and waiting for the sequel to make any impact. Rachel McAdams shines in the thankless role of Strange’s former girlfriend and colleague Christine Palmer, while the uber-talented Mads Mikkelsen, as the devious Kaecilius, is so underused that he is barely afforded motivation for his master plan.
If anyone seems to emerge unscathed, it’s Benedict Wong as Wong, one of the stoic masters of the mystic arts. He is the standout character of the Film, and gets to have a lot of fun being deadly-serious.
The origin story that fuels Doctor Strange is nothing special, and the immense level of exposition and explanations are tedious to say the least. I am still confused about some of the rules the Film attempts to put in place. The supporting cast is sadly underdeveloped and the humour is almost obnoxiously forced. But all of that said, Strange still packs a great performance from the always reliable Cumberbatch and has some of the most spectacular visual and special effects of the year. These visual wonders demand to be seen on the biggest screen possible, and do an incredible job making up for the Film’s faults.
And I feel like it should be obvious now, but be sure to sit through all of the credits. It’s worth it – especially for Strange fans.
Marvel Entertainment Canada release DOCTOR STRANGE on Friday, November 4, 2016.