Director: Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Day The Earth Stood Still)
Synopsis: After gifted yet arrogant neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) loses the use of his hands in a car accident, he travels East in search of a last-ditch cure. Yet he finds more than he bargained for when he encounters an order of sorcerers led by 'The Ancient One' (Tilda Swinton) and Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who introduce him to new dimensions of reality and a dangerous personal journey of discovery.
Performances: Despite having to grapple with an American accent, Benedict Cumberbatch completely nails the character of Dr Strange with an egotistical and often humorous take on the character- yet bringing his own gravitas to the more dramatic elements. All the supporting cast are solid especially Tilda Swinton and Rachel Macadams who, despite being relegated to the sidelines, adds believable emotion that keeps the film anchored in reality. Mads Mikkelsen also makes the most of a thin role.
Visual effects: With reality bending, city-folding spectacle (Inception dialed up to 11), complete with Matrix-style combat, psychedelic trips through time and space, and colourful magical displays; Dr Strange offers arguably the most visually rewarding Marvel film yet. The visuals only lose their impact toward the climax of the film as we encounter the dark dimension and the entity Dorammu, which takes us back to more generic, and frankly cartoony, territory. At it's best though, Strange is spectacular.
Score: Marvel aren’t known for their memorable scores, and previous works have largely been forgettable and generic affairs. Fortunately however, composer Michael Giacchino has come up with something different for Dr Strange and for once we have some semblance of a signature theme tune that we can associate with the character. You won’t be stampeding to iTunes for the OST, but it’s a nice change for a hitherto bland sonic franchise.
What works: Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance breathes life into the character of Dr Strange, effortlessly establishing him in the same way as Robert Downey Junior’s Tony Stark or Chris Evan’s Steve Rogers. The visual effects are outstanding and among the best we’ve seen, and the set-pieces are refreshingly different. Following Marvel’s tried and tested tone, Scott Derrickson balances silliness and self-awareness with some real drama especially in the early scenes with Cumberbatch and McAdams, and more emotive moments such as a late scene with Tilda Swinton that is beautiful and poignant. Character arcs are neatly resolved and the film sets things out perfectly for more adventures. Marvel’s streak of knowing humour is also present and correct.
What doesn't: Marvel have created a bold and original exterior for Dr Strange, but it can’t hide off-the-peg characterization and routine storytelling. Like Ant-Man and (the superior) Iron Man, it’s another back-to-formula origin story aimed primarily at establishing the character for future adventures rather than telling a new story. Efforts to blend interdimensional travel with Eastern mysticism and spirituality can also be clumsy and irksome for those who like things better explained. For all the talk of things not being just ‘mumbo jumbo’, its seldom described as anything more. And yet again, the villains of the piece are poorly developed and average, offering little except a reason for action to happen. The final act is especially generic and disappointing.
Summary: Strip away all the bells and whistles, and Dr Strange emerges as a solid but routine Marvel chapter empowered with spectacularly innovative visuals, exciting action, humour and a strong main character that will add a thrilling new dimension to the Infinity War.
See it if you liked: Thor, Inception, Guardians of the Galaxy, Harry Potter.