We’ve seen it all before: the arrogant and successful protagonist encounters a tragedy that would humble him and take him into a hero’s journey of redemption and selflessness (which may or may not include superpowers). Yes, Marvel’s Doctor Strange is as formulaic as it can be, but it manages to make you feel that you’re seeing the same old story for the first time through its stellar visual effects, superb cast performances, and self-contained story.
If you need at least one compelling reason to watch this film, it’s the visual effects. I know it may be a shallow reason, but the work that Marvel and director Scott Derrickson have done with the magical and multi-dimensional aspect of this film is nothing short of amazing. The CGI can be overwhelming at times, but when you’re dealing with magic, one needs to go over-the-top to triumph. Trust me, if you want to get the most out of this movie, watch it in IMAX.
The film also boasts a star-studded cast with high caliber actors. Taking the helm of the titular role is Benedict Cumberbatch, who delivers a charismatic performance of the arrogant and intelligent Doctor. With his legion of adoring fans, I can’t help but think that Marvel is setting him up to be on the forefront of the Marvel Cinematic Universe once the original Avengers casts’ contracts are up. If that were the case, it would be a welcome change as Cumberbatch’s appeal rivals that of Robert Downey Jr.’s.
The supporting cast is just as incredible in their respective roles, providing scenes with great chemistry. Tilda Swinton dominates every scene she’s in with her portrayal of The Ancient One. There’s a certain finesse and wrath in her character that she exudes so effortlessly. With the controversy of whitewashing aside (The Ancient One is originally a Chinese character in the comics), Tilda Swinton owns her role and delivers the best lines and fight scenes in the film.
Rachel McAdams plays Dr. Christine Palmer, Doctor Strange’s love interest, who breaks the mold by being less of doting damsel and more of a competent professional who knows her priorities. The relationship between the two is also a breath of fresh air with its realistic flaws, sparing us from cheesy romanticism.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is also noteworthy with his performance as Baron Mordo, a master of magic whose ideals are grounded on natural law. This film serves as an origin story of sorts on his villainous route. His fundamentalist and borderline extremist principles make him an interesting character and Chiwetel only adds to that depth.
Mads Mikkelsen does not disappoint and gives a sinister performance of Master Kaecillus, a wayward sorcerer hell-bent on sacrificing the earth to the cosmic entity, Dormammu, under the promise of eternal life. His motivation is as “comic book-y” as it can get, but there are some interesting points in Kaecillus’ character that puts him on the top-tier of Marvel’s otherwise dismal list of compelling villains. Sadly, the movie fails to flesh out these points causing the character to fall flat in the end.
In a cinematic universe that promises connectivity, Doctor Strange is one of Marvel’s more self-contained offerings. The independence is refreshing as it allows the characters to flourish on their own. With just a few references to the overarching Marvel master plan, Doctor Strange delivers a compelling plot and a fascinating world full of endless possibilities. With its box office success, the franchise will only grow and I can’t wait to see more magic from the world of Doctor Strange.
Doctor Strange is now showing. Make sure to stick around for TWO post-credits scenes.