I’m not a huge fan of the original Steve Ditko comics of Doctor Strange. They’re just too… well, strange for one thing. It’s not that they’re bad or anything (although they are a hard read by modern standards), they’re just so trippy and so out there.
I am, however, a huge fan of the modern rendition of Doctor Strange, especially the new series by Jason Aaron and the incredible Chris Bachalo (who has been one of my favourite artists since he did Generation X). This film manages to stay closer to the modern day version of Strange, but it still manages to keep a lot of the trippy weirdness from the old days.
First off, Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant. Not just brilliant, perfect. He is perfect as Stephen Strange, the arrogant and brilliant doctor who’s entire life falls apart after his hands are shattered in a car crash. He’s both serious, and funny (some of the humour in this film is excellent and I loved the cloak), and handles the physical action of the film well.
Chiwetal Ejofor does well in his role as Mordo too, as does Benedict Wong as… Wong. Those three characters are spot on.
Tilda Swinton is great as the Ancient One. Genuinely great, but then she’s great in everything. I know about all of the controversy that surrounded her being chosen for the role, and I agree it would have been better if they’d chosen an Asian actor to play a character who is meant to be Asian in the comic, but they didn’t, and it’s been discussed so often that it seems pointless for me to chime in. Needless to say, Tilda is brilliant, and brings a conflicted, but wise aura to the role, which it needed.
Mads Mikkelsen as the main villain is where the character stuff starts to fall apart. He’s very good at playing what is essentially a very dull villain. Marvel film (apart from Loki) have had a really hard time finding good villains, and this film continues that tradition of having a villain who is just a little underwhelming.
Speaking of underwhelming, Rachel McAdams does fine with what is essentially a bit part to put some romance into the story. It doesn’t really work, and I would have been fine if they’d either given her more to do, or just remove the whole character after the opening act. She’s more plot device than actual character for the majority of the film, and that’s a shame.
I should point out, that despite these misgivings, I liked this film. The story is simple, yet well executed, and the action scenes well done for the most part (there are a few where it was hard to tell exactly what was happening as the camera moved about so much, but they were rare).
The action is the star of the film. There are two sequences in particular, one in a mirror realm, and one on earth that are astonishing. The later of which might well be the most creative fight scene I’ve seen in any Marvel film. They’re both beautiful to watch and mind-blowing with their insanity, and if nothing else this film has set up magic as a terrifying, incredible, beautiful thing, and I look forward to seeing more of it in future Strange films.
The ending (no spoilers) is a little underwhelming too, and frankly the whole film feels like it could have used another twenty minutes to flesh out the villain and made him less of an afterthought. Although the way the ending is done is very creative, and I enjoyed Stephen actually being shown to be smart enough to figure it out.
It’s probably not a top 5 marvel film, but it’s certainly close to it. And the two end credits sequences hint to Strange being in a lot more Marvel films, and a dark turn for a sequel that I’d love to see.
Also, the music, like all Marvel films is phenomenal and completely perfect for the film. I don’t know how Marvel studios keep getting these brilliant scores, but they really are the master of putting them together.
So, it’s two hours of incredible spectacle and great acting, but a simple if well-executed story. My main problem is the villain. Marvel’s best villains are on their TV show, and no one has come close to the complexity of Kingpin, or evil of Purple Man. At some point the films need to correct this, because Marvel have some amazing villains to pick from, and I’d like to actually see them portrayed as a threat, not someone who’s there because the good-guy has to fight someone.