Another obscure Marvel superhero given his own film by the industrial machinations of the Walt Disney Corporation, Doctor Strange provides exactly what you may have come to expect from Marvel Studio’s output. It combines large-budget spectacle with honed quippiness and weirdly disjointed references to other entries in the ‘cinematic universe’. However, Doctor Strange proves to be a slightly more interesting picture. Through taking its source material’s roots in 60’s counterculture, it provides plentiful of colourful, psychedelic vignettes (which, thankfully, are the most memorable part of the film), in combination with plentiful hokey faux-eastern mysticism.
The ever affable Benedict Cumberbatch plays as the titular protagonist, Dr. Stephen Strange. An egotistical but talented neurosurgeon, he loses motor function to his hands in a car accident. After struggling to restore them through western medicine, he travels eastwards to Kathmandu, where he meets The Ancient One, played by a bald Tilda Swinton. She instructs him in magic spells and alternate universes. Over the course of the film, he semi-reluctantly takes up the ways of the ‘mystic arts’ and defeats a conveniently apocalyptic CGI threat.
The money spent on Cumberbatch was well invested, he provides suitable intellectual intensity and in every scene it is clear he is enjoying himself. The first quarter of the film, burdened by semi-sluggish origin story hokum, is practically carried by his efforts. However, for some bizarre reason, the director (Scott Derrickson) made the decision to replace his distinctive southern English accent with an unconvincing American one. His high-English bourgeoisie constantly threatens to punctuate and burst through his non-specific American drawl, like an alien chestburster trying to claw its way out of his voice’s sternum.
Aside from the numerous fun vignettes that rely on trippy perception gimmicks and fun combination of martial arts and flashy computer-generated magic, the film suffers from the feeling that it is just slightly too polished. I personally found Mads Mikkelsen’s rogue-mage villain somewhat unmemorable, even despite his weird scorched rainbow eyes. The plot is slowed down somewhat by the usual super-hero origin story grind, but thankfully high-production values and constantly moving cinematography prevents it from feeling as stale as it could have been.
While I certainly enjoyed myself, I do wonder how many more films Marvel can do before the contemporary trend for superheroes evaporates. Thankfully, this film has enough pretty colourful lights, intelligently written dialogue and sense of enthusiastic, warm-hearted realisation in it to make it feel somewhat filling, and not as innutritious as one would expect. The film to me is like a 2-litre bottle of cola, it’s tasty, and you get a lot of it, but it will not offer a life-changingly euphoric experience (unless you drink too much of it, then you’ll gain the life-changingly awful experience of tooth-rot).