Thursday, 3 November 2016

Review: Doctor Strange (Spoiler-Free)

Doctor Strange is the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and brings yet another classic super-hero to the party. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a world-class neurosurgeon whose work is some of the best in his field, but all this success has made him arrogant and selfish. After being involved in a terrible car accident (caused entirely by his own reckless driving), Strange's hands are seriously injured and he is unable to perform surgery. His desperate attempts to heal eventually lead him to The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who opens his eyes to a world of magic and endless possibilities.

Doctor Strange stumbles out of the starting gate with an opening act that brings little new to the table. The title character initially comes off as little more than a less likeable Tony Stark, and the supporting cast take some time to grow into their roles. Additionally, in the film's first half many of its attempts at humour fall flat, with numerous jokes more likely to be greeted with awkward silence than thunderous laughter. Fortunately though, the further this movie gets into its two-hour runtime the stronger it becomes, with its final impression being that of yet another satisfying super-hero epic from Marvel Studios.

There are a lot of interesting new ideas in Doctor Strange which make it well worth the price of admission. For starters, the visual effects are some of the most mind-bending ever put to film and ensure that this movie lives up to its name. Initial fears that the visual style would draw too heavily from the likes of Inception are unfounded; while there are certainly moments that are reminiscent of that 2010 hit, Doctor Strange puts enough new spins on these ideas (sometimes literally) that it successfully crafts its own identity.

Also, without spoiling anything, this movie has a fascinating final battle sequence which is a very inventive departure from what is usually seen in the genre. Genuinely unexpected and refreshingly original, this finale could be used to argue against the view that super-hero films have nothing new to offer.

Something that the MCU movies have consistently struggled with is a lack of compelling villains, with Tom Hiddleston's Loki being the only one to leave a lasting impression. Doctor Strange's main villain Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), doesn't reach the giddy heights of Hiddleston's charismatic trickster but is in the upper echelon of MCU baddies. With a clear motivation, personality and an intimidating look he shouldn't be as easily forgotten as some earlier villains have been.

Mikkelsen does well in the role and most of the cast is similarly strong; once they get past their aforementioned early wobbles Cumberbatch and Swinton bring some great performances, with Chiwetel Ejiofor as Baron Mordo also deserving of praise. One weak link would be Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, a role which fails to develop outside of the generic love interest archetype.

Overall though, despite a troubled start and a few rough edges the finished product is an entertaining movie, one which should please both fans and newcomers alike. The initial shortcomings are redeemed by an exhilarating second half which offers some fantastic action sequences, and ends in a clever and satisfying way.


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