The latest Marvel creation to be given the big screen treatment is arguably one of their most interesting characters. Dr. Steven Strange is an arrogant, self serving neurosurgeon who finds himself drawn into the wider MCU conflict not through a sense of duty, compassion or responsibility, but because his narcissistic ego and perception of self-worth drag him across the world to find a cure for an injury he sustained that could end his career. He is a broken man, one whose journey of healing and discovery is self-centred and narrow minded.
Doctor Strange goes to great lengths to set itself up as something different from anything we’ve seen so far from Marvel and to a certain extent that much is true. This a more visually ambitious project than any the studio has undertaken so far and the result is some trippy, psychedelic and wonderfully weird set-pieces that dazzle and confound in equal measure. To say it’s spectacular looking sells it short at times.
One thing marvel has always done better than most is cast their leads and Doctor Strange is no different. Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastic in a role he seems born to play and he balances all of the characters conceited little quirks with just enough charm to make him likeable. While its his need to constantly challenge authority and his drive to succeed that makes him a good student, it’s his willingness to adapt and to open his mind up to the unexpected that makes him a great sorcerer and Cumberbatch has encapsulated the character totally and completely.
Sadly not all of the cast are as well fleshed out, though Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofar give it their utmost to add some depth to their roles as Strange’s magical mentors . Rachel McAdams in particular is wasted as a love interest who seems only in place to facilitate some threadbare plot points and Mads Mikkelsen’s traitorous Kaecilius is reduced to hopping across the globe using his not inconsiderable powers to destroy some buildings in service of a darker power that is yet to come.
The film also sells itself short in the formulaic narrative that plays it safe with the same tropes we’ve come to expect from the MCU, including a forgettable villain threatening destruction of our world and a tie-in to the larger Thanos story that while necessary seems throwaway and lazy here. With so much attention to detail paid to the character of Steven Strange its a shame that the story doesn’t show the same love towards the other characters and the broader world he inhabits and what we’re left with feels a little too familiar and too constrained by the framework of the larger franchise it finds itself connected to.
The overall result is a film that is energetic and fun and at times soars head and shoulders above most other hero origin stories, but gets dragged back to earth by the weight of the MCU’s bigger plans. Visually it’s a stunning and dizzying achievement but a generic story often threatens to derail that sense of wonder. Doctor Strange is equal parts impressive and frustrating, a superhero franchise with the potential to be a breath of fresh air but one that is never quite allowed to fulfill that potential.