By Jack Holmes
Cinematic surprises have not merely been restricted to the typical blockbuster summer this year. A Ghostbusters reboot flopped, Deadpool was finally released on a budget more than four times smaller than Batman v Superman and nearly made as much money at the box office, and someone continues to fund Adam Sandler’s “movies” if you’re willing to stretch the term. To add to that list is Doctor Strange, the 14th film in the MCU, no we’re not including Fox and Sony’s Marvel movies and yes there really are that many of them.
Doctor Strange looked set to be the Ant Man, middle ground superhero movie of 2016. Both featuring popular and charismatic leads offered a little breathing space for Marvel fans before the high stakes movies of Civil War and Avengers titles, and both seemed to wear their unique selling points on their sleeve, Ant Man with its miniaturised scenes, Doctor Strange with its Inception style special effects. But where Ant Man felt like a standard superhero movie with its originality tagged on at the end, Strange is built around world bending and mind altering special effects, far more dynamic than its trailers would have you believe.
Doctor Strange follows a world renowned neurosurgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) who has his hands crushed in a car accident and sets out for a means to regain full control by any means necessary. His journey leads him to The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who introduces him to the world of magic and alternative dimensions, as well as revealing her orders place as defenders of Earth, naturally. It’s a typical Marvel origin story, reminiscent of 2008’s Iron Man, with a villain whose name you’ll have forgotten by the time the teaser clip at the end of the credits has rolled, not that it’s Mads Mickelson’s fault, simply that, as is typical of Marvel, supporting cast are given very little to play with.
Most of Doctor Strange’s cast feel overlooked, his love interest played by Rachel McAdams could have easily been replaced with a random doctor, with her relationship with Strange only built upon in one or two scenes and even then is done so fleetingly to keep Strange’s own story and journey of self-discovery moving. The cast works brilliantly together, and it’s great to see actors fall so far into their roles, Mads Mickelson especially, although it’s a little irritating to imagine how spectacular their performances could have been if they’d been given some real content to sink their teeth into.
Strange redeems, and excels, with its action sequences, however, which occur regularly, without becoming repetitive. It feels as if director Scott Derrickson was given a shiny toy with “magic” by Marvel and makes the most of it at every turn. At one end of the spectrum, Strange’s summoned weapons are fun to watch and work with fight scenes that are choreographed surprisingly inventively throughout, and at the other end are huge world bending sequences, from battles in areas where time is reversed, to whole buildings morphed as if made of clockwork gears. A metaphor for us all being part of a larger machine I’m sure, but even without a deeper meaning surrealism in a blockbuster Hollywood movie is a welcome addition. Derrickson does an amazing job in making sure he never goes further than necessary with these scenes as well, you’re never left confused as to exactly what’s happening unless that’s the purpose of the scene, such as a particular sequence in which Strange is shown the “multiverse” for the first time. It involves a blanket of multiplying hands, that’s all I’ll say.
Although Strange’s plot is typical of a standard Marvel superhero film, it often manages to work its way around the duller aspects through its special effects and out. Take the films third act for example, what seems to be gearing up towards the typical hole/portal in the sky explosion fest finale, is cleverly turned into one of the most inventive fight scenes of the movie with a particular climactic face off showing Marvel are at least looking to broaden their mind when it comes to how their movies flow, and in this case, are concluded.
There’s a growing group of people that are sick of superhero films and after the disappointments of Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman, cinema fans who are tired of repetitive origin stories and colourful characters with no depth. Doctor Strange by no means rights all these wrongs, it falls at the same hurdles as many other Marvel movies, but Strange’s use of cinematography and special effects brings something new to cinema that we haven’t seen since the likes of Inception. If the superhero genre can push the boundaries of mainstream cinema, and Marvel is willing to continue to demonstrate this in their future endeavours, they deserve to win back some of the cinema fans that may have become uninspired by the genre. Doctor Strange is a definite step in the right direction, we’re just hoping to see more of the same in future. When it comes to keeping the superhero genre fresh, it’s certainly Marvel- 1 and DC – 0 for 2016.