I have to give Marvel credit for this film because they really took what is arguably the least accessible character (maybe even more than Ant-Man?) and gave him a very accessible movie. Fortunately for the audiences, it’s a film that goes down smoothe and keeps you entertained. Unfortunately, the filmmakers do the absolute bare minimum to try and explain what is happening. In fact, I distinctly remember at least five characters in the film actually say, “What is happening?”
On paper, Doctor Strange is very impressive. With a cast including Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, and Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt, Casino Royale). That is a very impressive cast for a film about a fairly forgettable Marvel superhero. Unfortunately, I don’t think Cumberbatch works in this role. He is very good actor, but the normal quips and charisma that have become a staple in the Marvel universe, do not suit the actor at all. There are a number of scenes where Dr. Stephen Strange is supposed to be witty or sardonic, but it feels awkard coming from Cumberbatch’s stiff American accent and ends up falling flat. It probably doesn’t help that his arc in the film is the typical “selfish jerk who learns to become selfless” arc that we’ve seen thousands of times. Luckily, he accels in every other aspect required of him and is surrounded by a cast that absolutely nails it. Ejiofor is a tremendous actor and is the one who really grounds you in this universe. Rachel McAdams lends her hand here as Strange’s love interest who, while not given much to do, makes the most out of her character. And even with all of the controversy surrounding Tilda Swinton’s casting as The Ancient One, she kills it in this movie. She’s at once dangerous, wise, comforting, encouraging and skeptical.
Now for the bittersweet. On one hand you have the brilliant Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen playing a Marvel villain. On the other hand, you have the brilliant Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen playing a Marvel villain. Apart from Loki, the MCU hasn’t had the greatest track record of memorable villains in their films. Their motives are always the same and they are usually just a MacGuffin for our heroes to overcome. While many great actors have been cast in these parts – Jeff Bridges, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Robert Redford, Guy Pearce, Daniel Bruhl, Tim Roth, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Eccleston, Frank Grillo, Ben Kinglsey, and even James Spader – none of them stand out. Seriously, I had to look up half of that list because I couldn’t remember who was the villain in what movie. Marvel has a huge villain problem and you would think they’d know it by now. Fortunately Mikkelsen is great and gives his character an urgency and terror to not be completely forgettable, just don’t ask me to explain his motivation or plan.
That brings us to the big problem of this movie – what is going on? There is talk of a bigger villain that Mikkelsen is trying to bring into our world, there is some talk about our “astral bodies” (don’t even get me started on that hospital scene), and something about a time travel spell. That’s all I can tell you. The end is actually a nice twist on the usual Marvel-fare we get, but it’s also incredibly anti-climactic. Now what the film really has working for it are it’s visuals and the majority of its “action” sequences. The visuals in this film are astounding and unlike anything I’d really seen before. I truly hate 3D, but I would gladly pay the extra money to see a couple of sequences in that immersive format. This is a superhero film that goes by fast and isn’t going to offend anyone. The plot doesn’t make any real sense and the filmmakers don’t make any true attempt to explain it. This rings around the bottom half of Marvel’s adventures, hovering around Iron Man 2. Stick around after the credits for what is easily the most interesting scene of the film.
Runtime: 1 hour, 55 minutes