Marvel meets Inception
Another hard-to-translate-to-the-screen Marvel character enters the MCU, and blows it wide open.Imagine the possibilities. Parallel universes, alien dimensions, multiverses, alternate Earths - all of a sudden the beloved characters played by Downey Jr, Hemsworth, Evans and even Ruffalo don't have to be 'rebooted' from scratch - we could just investigate their lives in another world, where they could be played by different, younger actors, and given a new story which hints at what happened before (well, not technically, before, more at the same time). It'd be a little like Abrams' Star Trek, only actually 'current' (rather than 50 years after the original series), enabling multiple actors to play the same role without devaluing the franchise or ruining the timeline. That's what Doctor Strange could mean for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It could blow it wide open.Of course, with such great power, comes great responsibility, and nobody really wanted to take ownership of the adaptation during its long-gestating production cycle, with ideas dating back some three decades, and dozens of scripts - having touched the hands of just about everybody who made a successful comic adaptation in the nineties - before finally securing its current place within Phase 3 of the MCU. Despite being thirty years in the making, with all this unseen work behind the scenes, the reality of what we finally get today is still little more than a more colourful, fantastical origin story - the likes of which basically made up the entirety of Phase 1 (Iron Man 2 notwithstanding) - but thankfully, despite the premise, Strange still has a whole other dimension up his sleeve.
The story follows the tragic accident that befalls an arrogant, egotistical (and, thankfully, intentionally) irritating world-revered surgeon, whose trauma leaves him fractured both physically and mentally. Unable to practice anymore, he feels that his life is over, and who goes in search of healing in the Far East, finding far more than he expected. Introduced to a person known only as 'the Ancient One', former doctor Stephen Strange struggles to accept the mystical world that he is introduced to, trying desperately to reduce it down to logic and science, although it soon becomes apparent that if he can just add belief to his skillset, his powers could be limitless.
Right from its Inception-on-acid opening sequence, Doctor Strange will make you giddy as a schoolkid all over again, throwing so many wondrous Escher-esque realities at you that your mind will be barely able to keep up. Using modern effects in simply the best possible way, the movie injects you into an unfathomable world of multiple realities and multiple dimensions, blasting your senses with the kind of visual opulence that make Tarsem Singh's visions feel positively outdated.
At once marrying the high-tech savvy of the Avengers universe with the magical imagery of Strange's comic-come-to-life, the movie eschews the more dated Harry Potter form of spell-casting, in favour of the kind of approach Tony Stark would take, if he were a wizard. Its ability to feature wizards and sorcery and yet remind us of everything from Inception to The Matrix speaks of the perfect vision that horror director Scott Derrickson - a great fan of the source material - has adopted here.
It features wizards and sorcery yet reminds us of Inception and The Matrix
Cumberbatch is perfectly cast as Strange. Whilst the man has become almost the go-to-actor for arrogant, egotistical know-it-alls who think that they are superior to everybody else around them (Sherlock, Imitation Game, Star Trek: Into Darkness), here it actually works for the character of Strange, and whilst his soul-searching arc isn't as rewarding as it could have been, his transition into being a supreme sorcerer is fairly fluid. Ably supported by an on-fine-form Tilda Swinton (whose opening setpiece is so marvellous you almost want to watch an entire movie just about her character), a strong but slightly too earnest Chiwetel Ejiofor (with the same furrowed brow that was practically its own character in 12 Years a Slave), and a surprisingly game Rachel McAdams, we also get a reasonably solid villain for once, in the form of Mads Mikkelsen, a master pupil turned to the dark side, but with more to his quest than initially meets the eye.
Doctor Strange may be thinly plotted, and may seek to distract you with sound and fury (and a Guardians of the Galaxy style great sense of humour), but it does so elegantly, and with such verve and passion that it's impossible not be carried along for the visual rollercoaster of a ride. This isn't even Interstellar in terms of an attempt at rationalising multiple dimensions and fifth-dimensional thinking, but it is Inception in terms of its ability to construct - and destruct - visually striking universes like you've never seen before (and challenging what has previously been the mantle of the Marvel movie - a city-destroying end-of-level baddie - in new and unique ways). It barely stops to breath in its two-hour runtime, leaving you unable to pause to even understand - let alone criticise - some of the marvels you'll see, and offering but one option: go along for the ride.
Behind the scenes though, it's far from just another shallow, single-purposed origin story, which we all hope will lead to a more developed sequel; it's actually the gateway to a new universe for Marvel, suddenly showing audiences how such disparate entities as Civil War and Guardians of the Galaxy can co-exist in the same universe, and opening up a realm of possibilities for the future of the MCU way beyond even the many 'phases' that they have already conceived. It's Doctor Strange's boundless vision that gives it such an edge, and if, as with the character, you're prepared to let go and submit yourself to this journey, the possibilities are endless.
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