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Home / Movie Reviews / Doctor Strange review: What kind of sorcery has Cumberbatch brought to Marvel?

Doctor Strange review: What kind of sorcery has Cumberbatch brought to Marvel?

Doctor Strange review: Benedict Cumberbatch gives a strong central performance, but despite the stunning visuals, Marvel’s 14th film is mostly a rehash of better superhero origin stories.

movie-reviews Updated: Dec 01, 2016 18:53 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
Doctor Strange could have been psychedelic, Pink Floyd-esque fun.
Doctor Strange could have been psychedelic, Pink Floyd-esque fun.

Doctor Strange
Director - Scott Derrickson
Cast - Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton
Rating - 3/5

At 13 films old – now 14 - the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the hoopla that usually surrounds going to a Marvel movie has become a lot like going to your favourite restaurant. You’ve stopped being adventurous with the menu. You know what you like. You’ll have more of that, thank you very much. There is probably a better analogy to make about the MCU, one that doesn’t involve fast food but instead, mythical lore or Homer. But for now, fast food will have to do.

Because you see, as innovative as these films are, and as groundbreaking as they have been in setting the tone for modern blockbuster moviemaking (everyone and their grandmother is aping them at this point), it would be very surprising if more than two or three of these films are remembered in a few decades.

Doctor Strange arrives at a critical time for Marvel. The series is just entering its final act. And it is battling expectations, staleness, fatigue and a whole host of other problems – nothing that an Avengers film can’t cure, of course – but Doctor Strange is uncharted territory, Marvel’s first step into the more mystical corners of their immense universe.

Leading the film is Benedict Cumberbatch, who, despite his near-unbelievable charm, is still untested as a leading man in a franchise picture. So it gives me great pleasure to inform you that he is one of the best things about Doctor Strange. His arc is the most fleshed out, and although he very nearly blows it early on in the film, he manages to pull off making a detestable central character someone we can get behind.

This image released by Disney shows a scene from Marvel's Doctor Strange. (AP)

Recently, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said that their biggest challenge in this film was not the comparisons many were making to Christopher Nolan’s Inception and its city-toppling visuals, but the potential comparisons that could be made to fellow Marvel narcissist Tony Stark – which was a wise move, since that Inception battle is already lost, I’m afraid.

Doctor Stephen Strange, at least for the opening 15-20 minutes, is not a likeable man - so unlikeable in fact, that when his expensive Lamborghini careened off a cliff with him in it, a small part of me gave a shrug. But the crash took from him his biggest power: His hands. Doctor Stephen Strange, once an arrogant, but respected surgeon, without his hands, became worthless.

After a series of events that call for giant leaps in logic (including getting directions to a mystical far-off land with very little persuasion), Strange travels to Nepal, where he meets a mysterious being known as The Ancient One. And this is when the film finally steps into gear. Strange gets his own training montage, but instead of Tony Stark faffing around in his basement or Ant Man screaming in a bathtub, he gets stranded on Mount Everest.

This image released by Disney shows Tilda Swinton, left, and Benedict Cumberbatch in a scene from Marvel's Doctor Strange. (AP)

But try as hard as it may, Doctor Strange never really escapes from under the shadow of its franchise - although it makes the wise decision of being mostly independent of it. But for all its exciting visual choices, unprecedented in a Marvel movie and for all the magic, the film falls into the same old traps that have got the better of so many Marvel films before it. The most glaring of these shortcomings is yet another lacklustre villain.

Once again we have a Marvel superhero film in which the primary villain is eventually revealed to be nothing more than a henchman to a bigger foe, who is probably being saved for a future sequel. What a waste of Mads Mikkelsen, a fantastic actor who gets little more to do than wear funny makeup, wave his hands about and run a lot. His character, Kaecillius, the leader of a group of rebel zealots who threaten to unleash terrible, otherworldly forces on Earth, is like a cross between an un-menacing Darth Vader and a less moody Kylo Ren from Star Wars.

This image released by Disney shows Mads Mikkelsen in a scene from Marvel's Doctor Strange. (AP)

And once again, we have a Marvel superhero movie that completely ignores the importance of having good theme music. The only films that gave the music the respect that it deserves – especially in a superhero movie - were Iron Man 3 and the first Avengers, but even they forgot all about it later on for some reason. In Doctor Strange, composer Michael Giacchino openly recycles his themes from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and the Star Trek movies - just as this film does plot points from earlier, better superhero origin stories.

If only the care that was put into the staggering, MC Escher-esque visuals from the final act were put into the characters. If only the fantastic special effects and a strong central performance from Cumberbatch were put in service of a more cohesive script. Maybe then Doctor Strange could’ve been the trippy, psychedelic adventure it always promised to be, and not a middling entry in a 14-film-old franchise.

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The author tweets @NaaharRohan

Watch the Doctor Strange trailer here