Doctor Strange – Review


I have been reviewing films for 2 years now and that means that I have really been given the chance to see how the Marvel Cinematic Universe has evolved, but I have never really stated why I enjoy these films as much as I do. It’s not just because I am a big comic nerd and these are finally the films that do justice to the comics. When you get down to it, the Marvel films are just good fun, they’re flashy good natured films that a lot of people can enjoy and it’s not at the expense of the audience’s intelligence, something that all good blockbusters should be, but aren’t. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven so successful that it was decided for Phase 3, tons of new characters would be introduced and would even get their own films, which we are already beginning to see in the previously reviewed Captain America Civil War with the introduction to the MCU of Spiderman and Black Panther who will each receive their own films between them, over the next 2 years. Dr Strange, however was a film that fans were expecting to come along after Steven Strange’s name was mentioned as part of a hydra watch list in Captain America the Winter Soldier, so fans were naturally expecting him to get his own movie, or at least turn up at some point. Sure enough, when Phase 3 was announced it was decided that the first character to get their own movie would be Dr Strange and he was going to be played by Benedict Cumberbatch, a casting decision that I thought was absolutely perfect. Cumberbatch not only looks the part, but I was certain he could act the part too.

Marvel, this time has had a team of writers and directors that are all working on the MCU, and for this film they have decided to go with the directing and writing team behind the Sinister movies, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on your opinion of the Sinister movies. This is something that was slightly concerning for me considering that horror directors don’t tend to make great action movie directors, see the efforts of M Night Shyamalan with the last Airbender and John Woo with Dragon Ball Evolution. Nevertheless, the MCU hasn’t really let me down yet and I am still of the opinion that there are no terrible movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s November placing is almost as if to prove you can make a blockbuster almost any time of the year and will start a trend of Marvel movies that will be released in the Autumn and Winter every year. The same slot next year is going to be taken up by the upcoming Thor Wagner Rock as part of a trio of Marvel movies that are going to be released. Now, I am not that big a Dr Strange fan, but I enjoy the character, and I concede that it is very difficult to bring the character to life any other time them now considering how special effects have come along, they have waited very hard to interpret comic creator Steven Ditko’s vision, hence why the TV pilot from the 70’s failed miserably but with everything on the table, how can Dr Strange measure up, especially considering that we had a fantastic Marvel movie earlier this year with the previously reviewed Captain America Civil War?

Dr Stephen Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is a cocky, arrogant, but brilliant Neuro surgeon, that is until he has a car accident that destroys his hands, causing them the uncontrollably shake so as a result he cannot perform surgery anymore. In a desperate attempt to fix himself he travels to Katmandu in Nepal and seeks out The Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton). The Ancient One takes him under her tutorage to teach him sorcery as a way to cleanse his soul, however, there are bigger problems on the horizon with a forbidden ritual from one of the books being stolen by former master Kaecilius (played by Mads Mikkelsen). Now Strange and The Ancient One must work together to prevent Kaecilius from destroying the barriers that hold the multiverse together.

Dr Strange, like Captain America Civil War before has a really hard task on his hands, since not only does he have to establish Strange and his cast of characters but it also has to introduce the concept of the mystical side of the Marvel Universe to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, something that up until this point had been entirely absent. Luckily I feel the film does that and does it successfully. The big strength in this is the fact that the film feels contained, unlike Civil War that seemed to merge all sorts of sides of the Marvel Universe this one has much more focus on this particular story, there are very little references to MCU as a whole, with a few exceptions, there are a couple outside of the post credit scenes which mainly revolve around some references to the end of Civil War, the Avengers Tower being in the background shots of New York and the Avengers being referenced themselves. The only other major tie into the MCU that appears here is the inclusion of one of the Infinity Stones, which is still building up to the 3rd Avengers movie which has been confirmed to no longer be called Infinity War.

Let’s go into some detail. What did I like about this movie? Quite a lot, for someone who is not really a Dr Strange fan, I really felt like they gave him a lot to work with and I really enjoyed this movie. You don’t need an amazing understanding of Dr Strange’s back story, they go through it pretty well and a lot faster than I expected. In fact, Dr Strange’s accident that destroys his hands is about less than 10 minutes into the movie, but the film actually does run at a pretty good pace which is what is to be expected of the MCU at this point. The film really takes its time to be a character piece for Dr Strange himself, the story is one of reflection and redemption and while we have seen the story done a few times, I think Cumberbatch really makes it his own. I don’t think his character learns his lesson in the same way that has been done a lot of times. I also, once again, really enjoyed some of the supporting cast, including Wong, played by Benedict Wong, who is an excellently written comic relief who has some great chemistry with Benedict Cumberbatch and I really enjoyed Mordo in this film, who is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who seems to finally be back on form. One of the things that I think fans might be surprised by is that Rachel McAdams is not really in the film all that much, this is rather surprising considering that her role was very played out when the cast was announced and in the advertising, Tilda Swinton gets way more screen time and she is relegated to the ‘and’ part of the poster. The film does sort of build and build to a climax but the problem is that the build-up is a bit too good, there are some brilliant scenes down the line and as a result, when we finally get to the finale of the film, it feels like an anti-climax. It does still have a pretty good pay off though and as usual the film is as entertaining as hell, Marvel is great at making these films so accessible that they just work to such a large scale audience. The film blends with tons of great action and character and it also never forgets to have a sense of humour. It’s one of those films where you can just sit back, relax and enjoy the movie. I do think some people may struggle to connect with Strange initially since I think they make him too much of an arse at the beginning of the film, but at least he gets a decent arc and they don’t make him a stereo typical cocky arsehole where he is cocky and has absolutely no reason to be in that state, we at least see him be a skilful Neuro Surgeon. Comic fans will get a kick out of the references and general audiences will just get a great story, oh, and of course, another brilliant Stan Lee cameo. Plus, once again, the greatest thing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that they don’t take themselves too seriously, which ironically leads to the audience taking it more seriously, but then again, they do say if it isn’t broken, you shouldn’t fix it!!

Is there any major fault that I can think of with the film, not a major fault, but I do think this film falls into one trap that the MCU has had for quite a while, the villains! I am surprised that a film that has the main villain being played by Mads Mikkelsen has a villain that is this dull. Granted, he is not as bad or as forgettable as say, the Dark Elves from Thor of the Dark World or the Mandarin from Iron Man 3, or even the worst film, the Abomination from The Incredible Hulk, but I think he will be joining future lists, because I don’t really get that much off him, there’s not even that much motivation behind his actions, except he feels betrayed by the Ancient One and wants to merge the Multiverses together to create a world where everyone is immortal under the rule of Dormammu. Yes, Dormammu is in this movie and his prescence means Kaecilius is even more under-played as a result. You can’t put in one of the biggest, baddest villains in Marvel and have him be relegated to the side lines like this. It’s another case of Marvel putting so much emphasis on the hero that they forget to work on the villain. He’s not awful, in fact he gets some badass moments that work to his favour and Mads Middelsen really plays this part well, but I really felt that this film needed a better villain. Overall, that’s my only real complaint with the film, I actually really enjoyed the plot of this film which is what I can pretty much say about every MCU film, with possibly one exception.

Now let’s talk about the cast. I said Benedict Cumberbatch was the perfect casting choice and I think I was right, because he absolutely nails it. Fans of his work in Sherlock will probably be able to connect with it very quickly considering he is playing a very similar character to his version of Sherlock Holmes, but I think anyone saying he is playing Sherlock with a cape and magic powers is way off. Cumberbatch is one of my favourite actors right now just because of his versatility and every film he is in in elevated by his presence even if the script can sometimes be ropey and he really delivers to this film and a poorly acted Dr Strange would have thrown the entire film off, even if I think he does seem to dip in and out of his American accent. Chiwetel Ejiofor is really great as Mordo and I’m really glad for him because he is a really good actor and I feel his last few film roles have been rather beneath his talent, so it’s great to see him back in a film which really knows how to use his strengths. Rachel McAdams delivers a decent performance but it feels like her role has been bigged up a bit too much. Mads Mikkelsen is given a poor role but at least he attempts to put his all into the film and of course he is once again memorable, if you are looking at this and think you have seen him before somewhere, he played Laschifre in the Daniel Craig Bond film, Casino Royale, and he also gets some bad ass make-up. By far the best member of the supporting cast for me was Benedict Wong who is an actor I believe should be more well known, considering he has done some excellent supporting roles in several films and TV shows especially on British Television and keep an eye for him, he is going to be appearing in the new series of Black Mirror, which has sadly not been renewed by Channel 4 so has had to go to NetFlix. Let’s talk about the most controversial casting though, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, many people were quick to accuse Marvel of whitewashing when they took a role that in the comics was a Tibetan Man and they changed the character to be a Celtic woman. Tilda’s biggest problem is that her character is given a back story that is not quite developed but is constantly alluded to, which means that I don’t believe she knows entirely what her motivation is, nevertheless, I think she plays the role very well and plays a good role as the mentor figure, the downside, however, is that I can’t really defend Marvel on this one, Marvel have even practically admitted that the role was changed so the film could be shown in China and while I do at least appreciate that the part was replaced by a good actress and she gave a good performance, it does feel rather difficult to defend Marvel on this one.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the action scenes and the effects. Dear god, this film has some amazing effects. Steve Ditko’s vision for Dr Strange really comes to life in this film, there’s tons of amazing reality bending effects and the action scenes use this completely to its advantage. They are doing a lot in this film that the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t done for at all and as a result we’re getting some amazing action scenes. This is choreographed brilliantly, the camera work is excellent, you can tell everything that is going on and the effects never look fake, which is great. You really have to tell yourself that there is a green screen effect going on, but it doesn’t feel too much like you can see the green screen in the background, even better that we get a ton of location shots that blended into the film, taking place in Nepal, London, Hong Kong and New York, because it is a Marvel production, everything in the Marvel Universe happens in New York. These effects are fantastic and I really hope the effects department are nominated for an Oscar for it.

I saw the film in 3D and I can say that if you enjoy that format, this is one you might want to check out, there are some decent 3D effects, however, I largely forgot the film was in that format by the half way point of the film and I even began to feel the effect less and less, and for that reason alone, I can also recommend the 2D version.

Is Dr Strange good? Yes I would even say that for the most part it is even dam great. It gets its main character down well, the effects are fantastic, the action scenes are really well shot, the cast is really good, the writing is very good, I enjoyed myself from start to finish and it felt like it told a complete, yet contained story, yet fitted in with the Marvel Cinematic Universe really well. The only thing that kind of holds it back is the villains, which I feel is another point where Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t quite got down outside of the NetFlix series, and Loki of course. The film is a really entertaining ride and I would really recommend you check it out, especially at the cinema since I fear some of it won’t play as well on DVD and Blu Ray. It’s a really great film and what really sells it is Cumberbatch in the lead role. Oh, and if you are going to see it, stick around for the credits, once again, there are 2 post credit scenes. The first one is in the middle and sets up one of the Marvel movies that is going to be coming out next year and the second one is at the very end which is a build up for a sequel which has not yet been confirmed, however, I wouldn’t worry because they are probably going to announce it’s going to be 2021 within a week of this film being out in America.

Right, let’s talk about the other films I have seen since coming back from the London Film Festival. Since I had a lot of time on my hands, I managed to get a few down, so I will be talking about 3 films this time. The Warner Animations latest film Storks, Dan Brown adaptation Inferno and of course Ken Loach’s latest film I, Daniel Blake.

Storks: This being the first animated film since seeing Trolls which I reviewed last week, my standards are probably very low, so as a result I was actually kind of into this movie for a large part of it. It’s not a very good movie by any stretch of the imagination, I daresay it’s more of a mediocre film than anything else, but I think that’s because I was expecting too much of it since it’s from the same studio that gave us the Lego movie. That being said, however, there’s genuine times that made me really, really laugh and if you have kids, I definitely recommend you take them to this one over Trolls any day of the week, seriously, this was alright, the only thing that is really vulnerable is that they don’t really do much role building and the story has a lot of narrative issues, but you get extra points for casting Kelsey Grammer, that man is hilarious.

Inferno: This should be familiar to anyone who has seen the previous Dan Brown adaptations that Ron Howard has directed, especially to anyone who saw the Da Vinci Code and rather like those films, I wasn’t really into this one. It’s a really bland thriller which has some plots that you can see coming a mile away. Anyone that is familiar with Dan Brown will know that his stories tend to have very good build up and promise, but then a poor pay off, and there is no difference here, in fact it almost feels like it’s been taken to the outer degree and once again, the big problem is that the screenplay writers are pretty much forced to make more adaptations than the novel, cutting very little out of it. Expect the characters to talk a lot of exposition in a way that is fine in a novel, but does not work in a screenplay. I would only recommend it if you enjoyed the Da Vinci Code or Angels and Demons, if you didn’t skip it, this isn’t going to change your mind.

I, Daniel Blake: Now this is one film I really want to talk about. This is the latest film from Ken Loach, who previously has directed films like Cathy Come Home and this is another stellar film from him. This feels like a real life scenario about a man in his 50s who has had a heart attack and has been ordered not to go back to work, however, his benefits are cut because a medical examiner believes that he is well enough to work, so he has to go on to Jobseekers Allowance, looking for jobs that he can’t possibly take up. Ken Loach does an excellent commentary on the state benefit system, driving people down and demeaning them, to such an extent that they won’t go seeking benefits that they are perfectly entitled to receive. It’s also delivered by some excellent writing and excellent performances, this has honestly been one of the really amazing films this year and it’s down to some brilliant direction by Ken Loach. The only thing I will say about it though, is that it probably won’t make my Best of the Year list because rather like Foxcatcher, it’s a film that I thought was really good, but it was so depressing that I never want to see it again.

So that’s my main and my mini reviews for this week. Please leave something in the comments section if you have any opinions on the films featured.

Let’s move further into November as on 11 November, I am going to be reviewing a British film for once, based on a true story, I will be reviewing A Street Cat Named Bob, but I will also be giving my opinion on a couple of other films too, since I have already booked to see the animated film Ethel and Ernest, and that will be one of the mini reviews that I will be giving.

Thanks a lot for reading my review, I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing it and look forward to 2017 because the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be returning with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Spiderman Homecoming and Thor Ragnarock, man 2017 is going to kick ass.

Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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The Next Axia29th May 2024
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