Doctor Strange (2016)

Film review: Doctor Strange (2016), directed by Scott Derrickson

Doctor Strangetl;dr: This might give you motion sickness, and American Cumberbatch is weird, but Marvel films still rock.

Dr Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch with an American accent, which feels very weird) is a high-flying neurosurgeon, a master of his art. He can spot things other doctors miss, and is a genius with a scalpel.

Until he’s in a car accident, that is. (Don’t look at your mobile phone when driving, kids!)

His brilliant career in ruins, he’s desperate for a cure. Science isn’t helping, not for lack of trying, but a former cripple (Benjamin Bratt) tells him how he “got better”. Could the cure be hiding in a Nepalese temple somewhere in Kathmandu?

It must be some kind of magic. Dark magic, that is, used for nefarious purposes by a dastardly cultist whose name no one is going to remember after the film. (It’s Kaecilius, by the way, and he’s played by Danish Mads Mikkelsen, whom you will have seen in other things. Like the eponymous character in Hannibal.)

Also starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, Benedict Wong as Wong (who could totally get away with saying “The name is Wong … Benedict Wong”) and Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr not-entirely-as-brilliant-as-Strange Nicodemus West.

The big thing I heard about this film was an upset because the Ancient One was going to be played by a white actor (Tilda Swinton) instead of an Asian actor. As was pointed out at the time, there were a number of Ancient Ones, apparently, and this particular one is said to be of Celtic origin. Nice to see that no one in the film bats an eyelid that the Ancient One is a woman, though. (Well, aside from Strange’s mistaken identity at first, but that’s not based on her being female, just that she wasn’t around to be seen and this old bearded dude was.)

With Doctor Strange Marvel are opening up their cinematic universe to the supernatural. Sure there was magic involved with Thor and Loki, but they’re aliens, so their magic doesn’t really count as, y’know, magic. Or something. This is big-budget CGI spectacular magic. It seems to mainly involve turning scenery into a spinning kaleidoscope which makes me very happy that we didn’t see it in 3D because we would have been incredibly seasick as a result. Imagine the turning over of scenery like in Inception, but add things that spin around a lot and give you motion sickness.

Is it any good? Yes. Is it entertaining? Naturally. Is it funny? Of course, it’s a Marvel film! (That cape, tho …) Is Stan Lee in it? He certainly is. It has all the building blocks. It still has the “we need to save the world” thing going on, but because it’s done as a “we need to save these three locations … which in turn will save the world” it isn’t as tedious as, well, yet another “the world is in peril and we’ll throw everything at it and worry about having to top it in the sequel later”.

It was a fun film to watch, but Marvel films tend to be. I’ve not read the Doctor Strange comics, but then again I haven’t read any of the comics that Marvel have turned into films, and like them anyway. (I’ve read Watchmen, after seeing the film, but that’s DC.)

Oh yeah, and stick around for the end credits scene. It involves Thor (Chris Hemsworth)! Seems to be teasing Thor: Ragnarok, so yay for Doctor Strange being a part of it. Can’t wait.

These films are a nice spectacle to watch, but in the end, they’re effectively just, as they’d say on Craggy Island, “chewing gum for the eyes”. You’re not emotionally engaged in the same way you are with something like Schindler’s List, and you’re not moved by having realised something profound during the course of the film (Dead Poets Society, looking at you) or that kind of thing. Doctor Strange is just good fun. Fun with a lot of CGI spinning around.

4.3 out of 5 wibbly-wobby timey-wimey spells.

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