The fourteenth instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the second entry in their Phase 3 plan, Doctor Strange brings yet another avenger into the already crowded Marvel family while introducing mystic arts & alternate dimensions to its ever-expanding universe. Overdosed with suffocating levels of CGI, following Marvel’s typical narrative formula beneath its visually complex exterior, and steered by a stellar performance from its charismatic lead, this origin story offers its viewers a kaleidoscopic journey through astral realms, infinite realities & spacetime contortions yet fails to set itself apart from the norm.
Doctor Strange tells the story of Stephen Strange, a highly revered but equally arrogant neurosurgeon whose bright medical career ends abruptly after he loses the use of his hands following a car accident. Spending all his resources on experimental surgeries in order to regain his abilities, he finally heads to the east for a last resort treatment and meets the Ancient One, a powerful sorcerer who acquaints him to multiverse and teaches him ways to harness energy & shape realities through the mystic arts. But when a former disciple of the Ancient One threatens the fabric of the known world, Strange is put to the ultimate test and must rely on his metaphysical powers to save the world.
Co-written & directed by Scott Derrickson (best known for The Exorcism of Emily Rose & Sinister), Doctor Strange marks his first stint with comic book filmmaking and although he succeeds to quite an extent in delivering a sufficiently entertaining extravaganza, his latest suffers from the same set of issues that has plagued nearly all his works to date. Derrickson is definitely gifted when it comes to paving a strong groundwork for his films and while he manages to keep the momentum going for the major portion of the narrative, he’s always struggled to conclude them on a satisfying note. And in that regard, Doctor Strange is no exception. Its first half is promising but the remaining half descends into another generic blockbuster.
The screenplay features a universe that’s full of imaginations & possibilities yet only scratches its surface. Beneath all that parallel universes, time manipulation & astral projections lies the same generic storyline following the same predictable route that we all have seen many times before. What’s interesting, however, is how it handles the arc of its titular character, for Stephen Strange remains an intriguing character at all times. Instead of diving into the complexities of mystic arts & alternate realities, it opts for shape-shifting, multi-faceted backgrounds that are eye-popping but carry no weight or meaning behind them. And as is the case with most Marvel Studios features, the film lacks an intimidating antagonist.
Coming to the technical aspects, Production Design team chips in with set pieces that brim with mystical qualities while props such as ancient artefacts & antiquated relics provide added details to the spiritual environment it was aiming for. Camera is used in a way so as to amplify the film’s prismatic backgrounds but its chosen angles, slightly muted colour tones & apt lighting don’t necessarily succeed at it. Editing gets slightly carried away by letting many events transpiring in astral planes & other dimensions overstay their welcome and although the pace is steady, the film still ends up running a little longer than it should have. Visual effects are jam-packed into nearly every scene and is overwhelming at times but it is also the film’s most striking highlight.
Coming to the performances, Doctor Strange features a talented ensemble in Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelson & Tilda Swinton, with both Cumberbatch & Swinton impressing the most. Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange is perfectly cast and does total justice to his role by illustrating the stubbornness, arrogance & ambition of the eponymous character with precision while his charming persona compels the audience to invest in his journey. Ejiofor does well with what he’s given. McAdams & Wong don’t have compelling roles, Mikkelson tries to imbue a sense of evilness into his character but there isn’t enough meat on his arc, while Swinton steals every one of her moments with effortless ease. And last but not the least, Michael Giacchino contributes with a score that’s fitting but not enthralling.
On an overall scale, Doctor Strange does serve its purpose by delivering an entertaining, amusing & serviceable origin story to fans of its faction and mainstream audience in general but it isn’t amazing enough to garner a spot amongst Marvel’s finest features. Travelling a safe, risk-free route and sugar-coated with trippy, hallucinatory visuals, it is much capable of standing on its own but also works as another stepping stone to the major crossover feature that’s due for release next year. Even though I expected much more from it, what it delivers in the end isn’t entirely a disaster and has its own share of positives but it’s also a shame because, given its premise, it was capable of so much more. A fine introduction, if not a memorable one, Doctor Strange is a typical fun-filled extravaganza that we’ve come to expect from Marvel Studios and is another enjoyable addition to its repertoire. Definitely worth a shot.