After decades of false starts, a terrible TV movie and even the involvement of Guillermo Del Toro, Steve Ditko's sorcerer supreme finally arrives to audiences in the form of Scott Derrickson (Deliver Us From Evil) and his 'Sinister' co-writer C. Robert Cargill's 2016 feature from #Marvel Studios. The plot sees the fall of arrogant neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (#Benedict Cumberbatch), after a car crash wrecks his hands and ruins his life. Desperate for help, he travels to Asia to learn from the mysterious being known as The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who begins training Strange in the mystic arts.
As it happens, a renegade sorcerer (Mads Mikkelsen) is trying to bring an evil cosmic entity, Dormammu, to our world at the same time. With shaken confidence and new powers, Strange must avert Armageddon.
Derrickson nails Ditko's classic artwork
While saying that Marvel films have top notch production values is like saying water is wet, Derrickson gives us surrealist alternate realities that owes influence to everything from Dali to Escher to Inception. Cities folding in on themselves, mirror dimensions, vast kaleidoscopic voids of sight and sounds, the visual effects team pull out all the stops to deliver a sight well worthy of the big screen (the highlight being Strange's first 'trip' which will be nightmare fuel for younger viewers). Perfectly underpinning the imagery is Michael Giacchino's music, which balances intense and exciting, with being more ethereal, taking strong Oriental cues with the use of a sitar.
Thankfully, that's not the only trick
'#Doctor Strange' also benefits from another staple of Marvel's films: a terrific cast.
Cumberbatch effortlessly leads, able to find a line between the arrogance of great intellect, with the better nature of a healer like Strange. Swinton's Ancient One combines a maternal element with deep wisdom and world weariness to effectively play off against Strange's hubris, while Chiwetel Ejiofor's Mordo contrasts Strange's ego and skepticism with humility and devotion to his cause.His role of pseudo-mentor-brother with Cumberbatch gives the film an extra degree of heart.
Mads Mikkelsen is more limited in dimension, but carries himself with the authority and cold control that worked terrifically in 'Hannibal' as the villain, Kaecilius. Rachael McAdams also doesn't get as much to do, being the token love interest, but she has decent chemistry with Cumberbatch and gets some amusing lines in when the magic starts to affect New York. The comedy chops more firmly belong to Benedict Wong as the terrifically stoic librarian Wong, who just doesn't react to anything.
However, such magic comes at a price
Where 'Doctor Strange' comes up a little short is that, with so much lore to explore, the dialogue becomes rather wordy at times as characters have to explain to Strange, and us, how things work.
Thankfully, the calibre of actor, as well as a good blend of humour, doesn't make this painful, but it does cause some scenes to drag in a pacing sense. Additionally, while the climax is inspired, with our hero using his wits rather than tons of magic, the ending feels lacking in catharsis, like there's a deleted scene waiting for the Blu-ray release that cements Strange's arc.
Thankfully, the craftsmanship carries the film over any rough points. It's a familiar tale of hubris to humility well told and elevated by ambitious visuals, a rock solid cast and a shameless love letter to fantasy and global mythology.