(disclaimer: the poster that is used with this review is ©Marvel Studios and does not belong to me)
I am a big fan of the Cinematic Marvel Universe – I don’t pretend to know as much as other people, having never read Marvel Comics, but I still feel like I know my fair share about what’s going on in the Universe they’re creating for the screen. So I had pretty high hopes for the latest Marvel film, but Doctor Strange was one superhero I hadn’t heard much about before going into the cinema. All I knew was that Benedict Cumberbatch had been roped into playing the title character – and he did not disappoint (even if it did take a while for me to get over his American accent).
For another origin story (as Marvel bring all their strings together for the showdown of the century in Avengers: Infinity War, so the rumours go), Doctor Strange provided an interesting character and a good story line. Doctor Stephen Strange, played by the great Benedict Cumberbatch, is the second out-right selfish character we’ve followed in the Marvel stories after Tony Stark (Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr). Saying that, I was happy to see that in comparison to Iron Man, Stephen Strange seems to learn much more quickly how to get over this selfishness. After all, much of his self-interest and aggression stems from the loss of his hands in the first ten minutes of the film; to Stephen Strange, the celebrated neurosurgeon, the loss of his hands shouts a loss of identity and makes him question all of his self-worth.
Doctor Strange follows Stephen as, after he alienates himself from everyone who cares about him and loses his livelihood, he sets out to find a way to fix himself. But somehow on his journey to find and fix himself, Stephen Strange ends up becoming what is – in essence – a magician. After that, it’s as simple as saving the world from a giant, inter-dimensional enemy. Though it seems a similar plot to a lot of other superhero origin stories, I was pleasantly surprised by Doctor Strange‘s ending; it was an interesting, unique final battle, and unlike anything we have seen before.
More than that, there were some parts of Doctor Strange that were visually stunning – look out for some inter-dimensional travel and what the characters call the ‘mirror dimension’. Though impressive CGI, it can sometimes feel like you are looking through a kaleidoscope, and didn’t do much except confuse me for a couple of minutes; but I get the impression that that was the point, as the characters struggle with their quickly-changing surroundings. On the other hand, the fight scenes were wicked, including one that takes place between two astral-form characters. Also, watch out for the appearance of Doctor Strange’s cape, I honestly laughed out loud.
Unfortunately, the cape was one of the only things in Doctor Strange that made me laugh; most of the attempts at humour fell flat, and some of them seemed forced when otherwise the film was quite a serious piece, focusing on Stephen Strange’s struggle to make peace with his disability. Of course there were moments of humour that worked, and a few witty lines that reminded the audience that we were still in the 21st Century (given that you’d probably otherwise forget); but for the most part it was a more sombre origin story than others Marvel have done for, say, the likes of Ant-Man.
However, there is a trend with male Marvel superheroes I’ve begun to notice that Doctor Strange confirmed. Currently, they’re all caucasian… and a lot seem to have a male sidekick or friend of African descent (Thor, Iron Man, Captain America). My initial question is why? I’m excited for Black Panther and his origin as the first non-caucasian title character, but otherwise, why is it that white men are leading as title characters, whilst having a black companion? To say it’s to fit in with the “look” of characters from the comics is just not good enough. Plus, let’s just think briefly of Tilda Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One – it diverts hugely from the Doctor Strange comics and just felt… weird. If you’re looking for ethnic variety in a film, make it variety, not just one or two characters with a different ethnic background while the rest of them, even minor characters, are white.
Ultimately, Doctor Strange was a success. It was a fascinating watch; good, solid acting from most of the cast, amazing visuals and some thrilling fight scenes. However, I missed the lightheartedness of some of the other Marvel films, and I think it’s time we changed up the origin-story formula. Verdict: 8/10.