8 out of 10
At this point, every time I go to see a Marvel film the question on my mind is whether or not this is going to finally be the bad one. “Doctor Strange” very well could’ve been that one, using one of Marvel’s lesser-known characters and working with a difficult premise to make work onscreen. But the film simply works, rolling the Marvel staples of high-budget action, well-timed comedy and great castings into a new mystical package. It’s certainly not anything we haven’t seen before, but the film makes the oddity of “Doctor Strange” and his world work for it, letting it make tread ground feel fresh.
“Doctor Strange” revolves around the titular neurosurgeon, who after grievously injuring his hands, stumbles into a world of sorcery and danger. Benedict Cumberbatch was funnily originally cast for the role of Doctor Strange by the Internet. They thought he’d be perfect for the role, and even went so far as to photoshop him into the character on several occasions. Marvel was apparently paying attention. Cumberbatch got the role and he really works as Doctor Strange, able to bring gravity to scenes that otherwise could have been ridiculous. The film uses the rest of the cast effectively. Rachel McAdams is a competent, if rarely seen, love interest and Chiwetel Ejiofor is a great choice of companion for Strange. Mads Mikkelsen has a lot of potential as a Marvel villain, and it felt like he was underused as the villain in “Doctor Strange.” Regardless, he’s adequate in his role as the antagonist. The most interesting and potentially controversial casting is actually that of Strange’s mentor, the Ancient One. Traditionally portrayed as an elderly Asian man, Marvel instead decided to cast Tilda Swinton in the role. Personally I think that it’s one of the better castings in the film, but it does drastically change the character from its comic book iteration, so it’s going to ruffle some feathers.
The action of “Doctor Strange” comes off as a mix of standard Marvel big-budget action scenes and inception-style reality bending. It’s a joy to see onscreen and it’s a refreshing change of pace from the almost exclusively science-fiction Marvel enemies we’ve seen as of late. They take full advantage of the mystic source material, and it leads to some of the most imaginative and engaging Marvel fight scenes we’ve seen to date. Buildings break down into geometric shapes in the midst of sorcerous battles, and Strange fights through destroyed buildings as they reassemble themselves. Frankly, the action is really the highlight of the film.
But it does a number of other things well, one of which is making the audience laugh. Its comedic timing is great, and the film is well aware of how ridiculous its premise is. Surprisingly, this might be one of the more comedy focused Marvel films to have been made, just behind “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It helps keep the mystical source material from ever really becoming a problem for the film and really just makes it fun to watch.
Anyone looking for “Doctor Strange” to do anything new with its structure or storytelling will be disappointed in the film. It’s a by-the-book’s origin story for another character in Marvel’s rapidly-expanding cinematic universe.