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Review: Doctor Strange – “A sight to behold”

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doctor-strange

For a different take, check out the reviews by Chris and Alan.

The weird and wonderful world of Marvel has long been thrilling comic books fans, and subsequently film and television audiences. The scale and power of Marvel has now lead to them being able to push insane boundaries – not only through story, but in targeting demographics and creating engaging entertainment. Thor originally looked set as a tough sell, but it paid off; Guardians Of The Galaxy was a motley crew of unknowns, that has become a phenomenon; and now their turn their sights to the mysticism of Doctor Strange.

Many critics have already noted the similiarity between Strange and Tony Stark/Iron Man – the narcissistic tendencies, reconstructive surgery, and training on foreign soil. The film also attempts to capture the Phase 1 film’s humour, brandishing Strange as lovably selfish. The peaks and troughs of Strange’s charisma is far more eccentric than that of Tony’s, and one scene of him yelling at Rachel McAdams’ Christine strips him of any charm. Much like you can never predict the path of the film, you can’t judge how Strange will turn out in the end, with that sinister-looking get-up always making you think he’s not all that great.

The character soon becomes faceless as the mysticism comes to the fore, and its effect on Strange plays into it only minimally thereafter. The powers certainly need some attention, and exposition drowns out most of the character development. Whilst this all sounds negative, you can’t fault the film for needing to explore this new dimension to the Marvel universe. And when the film flourishes in its dazzling display of it all (Inception meets the Avengers), it is a sight to behold (especially in IMAX).

Handling it all, Scott Derrickson’s direction has very problematic styles – wherein some action sequences are so kinetic and twitchy, you can barely see what’s happening. However, he also displays masterful technique, especially with an action sequence that shows two timelines crossing over, in a wonderfully engaging set-piece. Overall, it’s not a voice like that of Whedon or Gunn, and Strange does feel slightly lower grade Marvel due to it. Derrickson is a huge Doctor Strange fan, but this time round, the fandom damages the overall project, as too many ideas drag it down.

It also doesn’t help that so many supporting characters are brushed aside. Considering there is an Oscar winner, and three Oscar-nominated actors here, you expect a great deal of their input. Tilda Swinton plays her female Yoda character with great ease, adding a calmness to the often crazy atmosphere. McAdams suffers the same fate as Natalie Portman in Thor, assigned to a very limited role, albeit being centred in another fantastic set-piece with phantasms fighting. And, for the villain, the ever-brilliant Mads Mikkelsen meanders through, never feeling like much of a threat, 100% wasted. But it is the part of Chiwetel Ejiofor that feels so underplayed. There is the notion he is due for more in later instalments, but placed at the right hand side consistently throughout, his part feels very tawdry.

Where the character aspect fails, the film makes up for it in spectacle. It’s hard to think that kids will respond to Doctor Strange in the same way they have with other Marvel flicks, but Strange certainly appears grand. The scale of these films often gets forgotten in the mass of activity happening, but Strange makes a very definite point of showing you what Marvel can do. It’s more of an interesting visual than “oh cool” sort of aesthetic, hence children perhaps losing sight of what’s to be enjoyed about it. It’s an epic style that adults are sure to appreciate – seeing the vast trippy visuals, and being truly transported.

It’s Marvel’s more adult outing – a film about loss and mindfulness – and certainly a niche inclusion in their catalogue. There is a great deal of fun to be found in sections of Doctor Strange, but also more eyeball-rolling segments than what’s usual in the MCU. This is more Thor: The Dark World than Iron Man. Where Strange will take the next Phase of Marvel’s strategy is something that should lend the film more worth in retrospect. The hints at what part it will play in Infinity Wars and Thor: Ragnorak are its most rewarding features; Strange will be big (perhaps not at the box office, but alongside all our favourites in the future).

3-out-of-5

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