Release date: 25th October 2016/Watch the trailer here
It’s been eight years since the Marvel Cinematic Universe was first introduced to us through Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man. Since then, we’ve seen aliens raining down upon New York City, Norse gods, and a hero in the form of a talking tree with limited vocabulary. However, we were yet to see magic – until now, that is. Scott Derrickson’s take on Doctor Strange, an origin story for a brand new superhero within the MCU, introduces its audience not only to Dr. Stephen Strange, but to the mystical world of magic – with not a wand to be seen.
Much like Tony Stark before him, Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a wealthy, arrogant, genius: a neurosurgeon renowned for performing miraculous, life-saving surgeries, until a car accident crushes his hands beyond repair, leaving him incapable of doing his job. Strange burns through his remaining fortune in the hope of finding a treatment, and eventually desperation leads him to a temple in Nepal. There, he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who – after sending Strange on a mind-bending trip through the ‘multiverse’ – agrees to teach him.
The first delight of the many that Doctor Strange has to offer is in its casting. It’s difficult to imagine any actor other than Cumberbatch (who was always the studio’s first choice) embodying Strange so fully. He is joined at The Ancient One’s mystical temple by the straight-laced, rule-abiding Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and its librarian, Wong (Benedict Wong), po-faced yet at the heart of some of the film’s funniest gags. Rachel McAdams, as Strange’s competent fellow surgeon, friend, and part-time girlfriend Christine, does the best that she can when resigned to the role of Love Interest, while Mads Mikkelsen is Kaecilius, playing another part that Marvel has a history of struggling with: the villain (and he’s far from the worst MCU villain that we’ve seen – but he’s no Loki, either).
The real joy of Doctor Strange, however, lies in its visual effects. Through them, we are not just introduced to a multiverse, but also to the beauty of magic – which, in the MCU, involves controlling time, creating glowing portals to hop from one location to the next, and a jaw-dropping battle that takes place on skyscrapers that are constantly moving and folding in on themselves à la Inception. These are effects like you’ve never seen them before; not just enhancing the film but expanding it. The effects are as much of a crucial part of Doctor Strange‘s plot as the characters themselves.
It’s far from the best in the MCU – it’s not even the best this year – but it’s undoubtedly the most interesting superhero origin story that we’ve seen since the early days of Iron Man. As with most origin stories, though, the characters and the effects are just about all that’s original here, and everything feels slightly crammed-in. With a runtime of less than two hours, Doctor Strange is shorter than most comic book movies, but not necessarily any the better for it. Everything, from the complex magical lore, to Strange’s initial introduction, feels a little bit rushed – one minute, Strange is still learning magic at the temple, then the next he is cloaked and battling villains in the film’s finale, which seemingly comes out of nowhere.
Thankfully, the finale is an impressive one at least, simultaneously bringing something new and exciting to the MCU while still feeling decidedly Marvel in tone. It’s every bit as fun and engaging as one would expect, despite being one of the darkest chapters of the MCU that we’ve seen so far. With the promise of strange things to come hinted at in mid- and post-credits scenes (to stick around throughout the credits of an MCU film is commonplace by now), this is another superhero that’s here to stay.