For Marvel‘s second cinematic outing this year, Doctor Strange certainly has a lot to live up to. Not only does the film need to properly introduce Strange himself, a major driving force in the Marvel Universe, but also properly introduce and explore the world of magic, which the MCU has thus far not discussed. But through impeccable direction and writing, stunning special effects, and standout performances by all of the cast, Doctor Strange is one of the most imaginative and entertaining films of the year, let alone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It’s hard to know where to begin on all of the things this film does right. The story, while familiar Marvel fare of an arrogant man being humbled and becoming a hero, feels reinvigorated thanks to the work by writer C Robert Cargill. The film smartly simplifies Strange’s life before learning the mystic arts, while leaving all the important details to flesh out his character. Once Strange begins learning how to use magic, the film slows down enough to really explore the possibilities of this new world we’re learning about, just as much as Strange is. The dialogue avoids feeling exposition-heavy, and manages to keep things moving at a steady pace, keeping viewer interest throughout the 2 hour runtime.
Equally impressive is the films large cast of well-renowned actors and actresses, each of whom deliver a stellar performance. Cumberbatch may play Strange with similar beats as Tony Stark in the first Iron Man film, but he is none the less charming, engaging and an absolute delight to see on screen. Likewise, Tilda Swinton is surprisingly charming as The Ancient One, Doctor Strange’s teacher, and manages to steal many of the film’s best scenes. The Supporting cast of Benedict Wong and Chiwetel Ejiofor play their roles well as Strange’s compatriots, managing to play off Cumberbatch well, and serve as engrossing characters in their own right.
The weak spot for the Marvel films thus far have been in their romantic leads and villains. And while the characters are not given as much time as our protagonists, Doctor Strange manages to be the exception to the rule as far as its romantic lead and villain goes. Rachel McAdams is untraditional Doctor Christine Palmer, supporting and caring for Strange but still having her own responsibilities as a surgeon. Unlike other love interests, her small role in the film has less to do with her lack of importance in the film, but rather that she has her own life and responsibilities to attend to, serving as a more mature love interest who doesn’t drop everything for the needs of our male lead. Likewise, Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius is a given more material then the typical Marvel villain, thanks in part to his unique perspective on this new world we as an audience are being introduced to. The script gives Mikkelsen more depth to his character, so that even while he isn’t as strong as Strange as a character, we understand his motivations as more then just evil for evil’s sake, while still being an imposing threat throughout.
The real star of the film, however, are the visuals. There simple aren’t words for how uniquely bizarre the visuals manage to get, with characters bending reality and enviroments at will, leaving audiences as surprised as characters can be. Standout moments include a chase sequence that literally reshapes all of New York into an M.C. Escher-esque maze, as well as Its frankly beautiful to look at, vibrantly colorful and simultaneously foreign AND understandable. While many have compared the visuals to Inception, there there’s nothing to visually compare Doctor Strange to, let alone a film that uses its visuals as enjoyably as this.
An enjoyable popcorn-flick, an experimental Super Hero film and a genre-bending art exhibit, Doctor Strange simply has it all and does it beautifully. Its the kind of film that you cant just see, but experience on an individual level. In a year where Super-Hero films were muddled in lore, realism and consequences, it’s beyond refreshing to find one that is so outlandishly fun, well told and, yes, strange.
Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 10 Astral Projections out of 10