Doctor Strange [2016]

The Marvel Cinematic Universe dips it’s toes into the mystical to mostly good results with Doctor Strange – a visually arresting fantasy romp which could have done with a dose of the dark stuff

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Another year goes by and another raft of additions to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe hit our screens (both small and large).

In comparison to the studio’s veritably pornographic Civil War event, which predictably rocked the box-office for the entirety of the Summer, this recent effort will seem almost reserved. The cast, of a higher calibre than the usual superhero flick, is small. Large crowd scenes are kept to a minimum and the number of combatants in the, typically brilliant, action scenes are relatively small (compared to the hordes of robots/aliens that are usually expected in a film of this ilk).

Director Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil) and producer Kevin Feige, instead, opt for a headier, psychedelic feel – augmenting the gorgeously shot sets and locations with a veritable kaleidoscope of visual effects that transport the viewer into a truly unique world of magic and mysticism.

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I’ve always stood as more of a skeptic, when it comes to the proliferation of 3D-cinema. Since James Cameron’s shallow but immersive Avatar, studios have been jumping at the chance to add value to their wide releases with cheap 3-D conversions to films that have not needed them. However, from time to time, a great film will make use of the technology to winning effect and the results can be spell-binding (Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity comes to mind).

However, Doctor Strange is not a great film. Set amongst the pantheon of heroes, he holds an estimable cult following amongst comic fans, but is largely unknown to the movie-going populace. His character, ably performed by Benedict Cumberbatch, who spends 2-hours wrestling with a rather flat American dialect, is a Marvel-archetype. Successful, rich, arrogant – yet charming – he’s brought down to earth by an accident which robs him of his talents as a surgeon and material wealth.

So follows, a globe-trotting search for healing, enlightenment and, eventually, mystical powers. Props goes to the writers for delaying the onset of the mystical fantasy that dominates the movie for the last hour (as well as a brief, nicely creepy prologue). Indeed, the film stay rooted in reality, allowing us wallow with the stricken lead for a while. The tone of this first act is dark and much gritter than the usual Marvel output. It’s just a shame that they film-makers didn’t have the conviction to maintain this mood throughout.

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In due course Strange meets mystics galore (played by the enigmatic trio of Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong), gains his powers and gets involved with a conflict, pitting the newly-found sorcerer against occultist Mads Mikkelsen and his acolytes. There’s humour abound, jokes fall flat from time to time, but the visual effects are the real star of the show here. The mind-bending effects borrow liberally from the likes of The MatrixInception and 2001: A Space Odyssey and the results truly must be seen to be believed – preferably on an IMAX screen in 3-D.

Although Doctor Strange never reaches the giddying heights of Marvel’s ensemble pieces, or the winning chemistry of it’s best comedies, it succeeds as a refreshing palette cleanser for the series – giving us a tantalising glimpse into a new corner of their ever expanding Multi-verse.