Doctor Strange (2016)

Dr Strange or How Marvel Almost Decided to Change Their Formula, But Didn’t

Doctor Strange, is the bizarre love child of Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey with Marvel’s patented superhero formula tightly restricting the film from ever fully unleashing its crazy potential. It’s a film that sells itself as a deviation from the norm, but often reveals itself as another mixtape of ideas and tropes that we’ve seen over and over again. There’s even some Aladdin, House M.D., Batman Begins and Harry Potter thrown in there.

The 14th film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is perplexing to decode, because despite being fun and crowd-pleasing entertainment, it’s essentially a Xerox of the film that started it all; 2008’s Iron Man. Dr. Stephen Strange is an affluent genius; not unlike Tony Stark. Strange is a snarky, egotist who somehow survives a near fatal accident; not unlike Tony Stark. Over the course of 120 minutes, he slowly comes to accept his own potential heroism and learn some humility in the process; not unlike…you get my point.

Despite the spectre of Tony Stark lingering over both character and narrative, the film does flourish during those moments, when it manages to wriggle free of the studio’s grasp and embrace its own bizarre source material. It’s in these moments where Doctor Strange transforms into an Escher painting brought stunningly to life with mind-bending surrealist imagery. Strange’s colourful, special effect-driven traverses across time, space and dimensions present some of the best visuals you are likely to see in the cinemas this year. It’s just unfortunate that things are nowhere near as enticing or exciting when he returns to our reality.

Just as disappointing, is the squandering of every single cast member not named Benedict Cumberbatch (charming – as always) or Tilda Swinton (transcendent – perfect). Despite its assembling of one of the MCU’s most complete and diverse casts, the supporting players are largely wasted. Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Stuhlbarg are all marvellous, award winning performers, but their roles are so underwritten that they could have been played by almost anyone else.

Perhaps I expect too much from popcorn entertainment these days. These repeated MCU sins rub me the wrong way, but there is still much to enjoy for those who aren’t feeling the same levels of draining superhero fatigue as I.

While Mikkelsen’s Kaecililus is yet another villain who boringly wants nothing more than to destroy the world, his arrival on screen usually indicates that we’re about to be treated to another round of visual splendour. The scenes where the city surroundings bend, split, separate and transform will melt your brain and beg repeat viewings to fully capture and comprehend the detail and imagination on offer. The fractal eye-candy is more than worth the price of admission.

I’d love to see director Scott Derrickson and his team return for a film that was freed of its contractual obligations to origin storytelling and following the Marvel playbook so devotedly. A sequel that focused more so on journeying through the astral plane and exploring the kaleidoscopic universe they’ve created is a hugely appealing prospect.

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