Tuesday 25 October 2016

Doctor Strange by Scott Derrickson

In Doctor Strange, a gifted and wealthy surgeon, Stephen Strange finds his life turned upside down after a terrible car accident that leaves him badly injured and with his career ruined in the process. Upon hearing about a guru who might be able to help him, he travels to Nepal only to be thrusted into a world of magic in which he has to somehow reluctantly takes centre stage, again those who wants to unleash the forces of darkness on Earth.

There are some who lamented that recent Marvel films were becoming samey, since Avengers - Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War pretty much featured most of Marvel characters seen on screen so far, and there were concerns that this was the shape of things to come. No such concerns with Doctor Strange, which is a single origin story, with a lot of similarities with one of Marvel's earliest and most successful screen character, Iron Man, with he characters progression following the same arc. Yet Doctor Strange was also a tricky character to import in the existing MCU, and an important step in the development of its universe, brushing with magic again like the Thor films, whereas most others rely more on science fiction, and the film is very successful in that respect. Director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) has the skill to make you accept this world of spell and multiverses within a contemporary setting without it ever feeling jarring.

The mind-bending visuals that he conjures set Doctor Strange apart, and they are just as awe-inspiring as what the trailers teased, without ever feeling gimmicky. From the crazy opening scene, with a fight taking place in folding buildings, to Doctor Strange astrally projecting into multiverses, they demand to be seen in the biggest screen you can, and particularly IMAX (although not if you have motion-sickness!). The special effects are endlessly inventive and push the limits of modern special effects. The last act is also a visual treat and a nice riff on the usual increasingly massive destruction finales in the MCU.

The one main weakness in Doctor Strange, that often threatens to derail the film, is its lead Benedict Cumberbatch. He is completely wrong for the part, lacking of any depth, nuances and presence, and is never more than an English middle class actor playing pretend with a funny American accent. He might gets away with mediocre performances in period dramas where he is right at hime, but one has to wonder how anyone could have offered him this part, given the train wreck of a performance he delivered as another iconic character, Kahn in Star Trek Into Darkness. As a spoilt and arrogant surgeon at the start of the film, he is just annoying, without the charm that Robert Downey Jr managed to exude as Iron Man. When Doctor Strange finds enlightenment in Nepal, he comes across as that smug gap year idiot who bores you with his stories, and when he is supposed to come into his own and become the hero of the piece, he is simply too bland. Worse, his delivery is so flat that he ruins all of his one-liners. To think that Joaquin Phoenix was originally considered for the part... (he turned him down because of the multi films contract he would be tied into.)

As for the supporting cast, it is a mixed bag. Rachel McAdams is given very little screen time and her character could have easily been edited out of the film, a crying shame considering her vast talent. Chiwetel Ejiofor seems to struggle to settle into the part of Baron Mordo, Doctor Strange's sidekick. Tilda Swinton however, as The One, is great fun and just as other-wordly as ever. Mads Mikkelsen as the baddie, is the real stand-out however, no mean feat considered how barely fleshed out his character is (and Marvel often has an issue producing memorable villains, aside from Loki). As Kaecilius, he is broody, menacing and being never less than captivating.

Review by Laurent de Alberti

Star rating: 

Doctor Strange. USA 2016. Directed by Scott Derrickson. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen...

Out in the UK on the 25th of October and on the 4th of November in the USA

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