As with any superhero origin story, there’s an obligation for the filmmakers to create a world an audience will adhere to, to have them be emotionally invested in the characters, and wary of what is at stake. In the case of Doctor Strange, the latest endeavour to come out of the blistering hot MCU, it’s an unenviable task bestowed to Scott Derrickson, dealing with a mostly self-contained creation, caught up in a complex, mystical narrative concerning space, time and everything in between – and it’s one the director passes in emphatic fashion.
Considered to be one of the very best neurosurgeons around, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) finds his vocation threatened following a car accident which destroys both of his hands. Desperate for a second chance, he travels to Nepal to meet The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who professes to mend the human body, by first targeting the mind. With fellow student Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) by his side, the once sceptical Strange is blown away by the wizardry he encounters, bending the rules of time and space, moving between alternate dimensions and discovering the sheer immensity of the mind’s capabilities. It’s at this point his hands become the least of his problems, when encountering The Ancient One’s rogue, former student Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), as the Doctor is tasked with saving the world from his dark, demonic powers.
Appearing almost like a theme park simulator at times, Doctor Strange marks Marvel’s most visually striking endeavour yet, with breathtaking special effects. It’s not just an aesthetic treat either, as the leading performances are accomplished, particularly by Cumberbatch who captures the darker edge to the role at hand, ensuring that you always feel somewhat tense in his company, wary of the potential in him joining Kaecilius on the dark side. However, the film’s primary antagonist is one of the weaker aspects to this feature, and while certainly no fault of Mikkelsen’s at all, he’s merely underused and we don’t truly get a sense for his power, and what he’s capable of, being not nearly a well-rounded enough creation.
The one person who should be commended above all, however, is Derrickson, for crafting an intellectual, complex narrative in an accessible manner, blurring the line between reality and the supernatural in an effective way, never contrived in the implementation of pop culture references (such as when we see librarian Wong – played by Benedict Wong – listening to Beyonce). But for all the convoluted, mind-bending aspects, the entertainment value is never once compromised, as Doctor Strange is Marvel’s most ambitious film to date – and one that is up there with the studio’s very best.