Film review: Dr Strange

Dr Strange is an average and predictable – though visually spectacular and entertaining – origins story that will test Marvel fans’ patience with the studio’s epic superhero franchise.

Oct 28, 2016, updated Oct 28, 2016
Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Stephen Strange.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Stephen Strange.

A self-obsessed, arrogant neurosurgeon, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is at the very top of his field when a catastrophic car accident crushes his hands, along with his extraordinary career and self-image.

(You’ll get used to Cumberbatch with a New York accent after 20 minutes or so.)

Desperate for a remedy for his mangled hands, Strange investigates all that Western medicine has to offer but is frustrated by the work of lesser doctors.

After lashing out at the only person that tolerates him, fellow surgeon and love interest Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), Strange travels to Kathmandu, Nepal, in the hope that a mysterious school of Eastern spirituality can cure his injuries, and give him his old life back.

There he meets ‘sorcerer supreme’ the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who liberates Strange of his petulant cynicism and insistence on a scientific approach to medicine by sending him on a magical journey through various dimensions across the multiverse.

Briefly humbled by his own magical incompetence, Strange begins to train in the mystical arts and is soon flung into an inter-dimensional battle with the Ancient One’s former student Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who has started his own sect aiming to transport Earth into the “dark dimension”.

The awesome, skyscraper-folding, kaleidoscopic visual effects employed throughout the film, especially during the fight scenes, are its great triumph.

Overseen by Stephane Ceretti and Richard Bluff, these visual effects are a massive leap up from the city-bending scene from Inception that undoubtedly inspired them.

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Cumberbatch is capable as always, though the role doesn’t give him much to work with, and Swinton – setting aside “white-washing” controversy over the casting of a Scottish woman where the original comic books call for a Tibetan man – is convincing as the wise, bald and otherworldly guru.

However, the whole cast is let down by mostly lame, clichéd “forget everything you think you know”, “who’s laughing now”-type dialogue.

Marvel’s origin story formula – familiar to those who have seen Iron Man, Captain America: the First Avenger, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk among others – is, I should say, an entertaining one.

You have fun if you watch these films.

The tense conversations cut through by unexpected humour, the slightly childish, flawed-genius male lead character, the underdeveloped antagonist and the cursory love interest are all there in Dr Strange.

According to the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline, we’ve got until 2018, and then 2019, before many of these origin stories coalesce in the epic Infinity War I and II climax envisioned by the studio.

But if Marvel wants audiences to go the distance, can it keep producing more-or-less the same film over and over again?

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