Ushering a return towards more experimental films for Marvel, Doctor Strange (Dir. Scott Derrickson) is an commendable attempt to bring the more mystical dimensions of the MCU into the foreground. Much like 2015’s Ant-Man, we see a recycling of the traditional origin story formula for a hero without much stock as a ‘household name,’ and the result is an impressive, if not slightly predictable, venture into the creation of an unlikely hero.
Reminiscent of the likes of Hugh Laurie’s character in House; Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the acclaimed neurosurgeon Steven Strange is somewhat unusual—with his intense arrogance ultimately creating a character whose tribulations inspire nothing but apathy. Despite the devastation a car crash causes him—primarily the shattering of every bone in his hands, which renders him unable to perform surgeries—his perseverance in dismissing those who attempt to console him (namely his work associate and former lover Christine (Rachel McAdams) removes any chance for sympathy in his eventual isolation, thereby cancelling any opportunity for his rehabilitation to appear merited. However, Cumberbatch’s ability to deliver sarcasm and the dry style of humour that characterises Marvel movies allows a semblance of amicability to seep into his character, serving to undercut his wearisome attitude.
The trouble with most films concerning elements of mysticism and magic is that they tend to run the risk of their plot-lines appearing lazily written because of the inherent breaking from reality and consequential allowances for gaps in credibility. While Doctor Strange actively embraces its freedom to incorporate inter-dimensional travel and time/space manipulation within its narrative, it also makes efforts to balance itself within reality through the constant disbelief shown by its titular character. In doing so, the film retains itself an element of self-awareness that emphasises the absurdity of the events within its narrative, while a repetition of the idea that not everything can be explained accompanies the gradually shifting mindset of its protagonist to coerce the audience into suspending their belief.
Doctor Strange exercises a certain degree of originality within its representation of the mystical arts, especially when set against its predecessors that showcase mythical god figures and heroes created by more ‘real-world’ situations. However, because it follows the atypical origin story formula relatively closely, it suffers the gradual loss of its initial momentum and charm due to its predictability, ultimately seeming somewhat stale in its attempts to differentiate Steven Strange from the subjects of Marvel’s previous films. Alongside this, the impressive CGI elements of the film follow suit in their levels of impact, with the intricacy of the swirling buildings becoming more and more like a sequel to Inception (2010) with every occurrence—although it is refreshing to see Marvel effectively using such a different visual style.
All in all, I found Doctor Strange to tick all of the boxes that I’ve come to expect from Marvel’s films; and despite my criticisms, I enjoyed it. It’s a strong addition to an ever-growing canon of successful origin stories, with ample room left for progression and interaction within the arcs of other characters within the Marvel Universe.