Doctor Strange, bringing new dimensions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or multiple dimensions, to be precise.
There are comparisons to be made between Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and Iron Man’s Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Both are brash, yet brilliant. Both push away those they love. Both are quick to quip. And both find themselves thrust down their paths to super-heroics by life-threatening trauma caused by their own arrogance. Whilst the characters have their similarities, and the two stories are ultimately about discovering how much their injuries will define who they are (will they wallow in self-pity, or embrace the opportunities which are opened to them?), structurally, the films are different beasts beyond this.
In fact (and stay with me here), Doctor Strange probably bizarrely has more in common with the first of the Kung Fu Panda movies.
In the animated family favourite, Jack Black plays Po, an outsider, unskilled in the art of kung fu. His supposed destiny as a kung fu master and protector of the realm is pushed upon him by the wise old Master Shifu and the Furious Five, and he’s taught in the ways of martial arts. Why? Because a threat is looming that the world will need Po’s protection from. Shifu’s now evil former student Tai Lung – who once betrayed his master – is on the rampage. Unlimited power is his goal, and only Po can stop him.
Now just replace Po with Stephen Strange, Shifu with the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), the Furious Five with Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong), martial arts with the mystic arts, and Tai Lung with Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius, and you’ve got yourself Doctor Strange. Sure, the films might tonally be polar opposites, but the structural similarities are striking. Not that that’s a bad thing either, necessarily. It’s a tried and true formula, and it works well to introduce us to a more magical side of the MCU. We went to space with Guardians of the Galaxy. Now we’re exploring the multiverse with the good Doctor. And boy is it a trippy place!
Visually, it’s ridiculously impressive. Buildings fold on top of buildings, the world turns sideways and upside down, rifts between entirely different spaces open up. Attacks fly unpredictably from all directions, with each and every floor, wall and ceiling becoming a battleground for those versed in magic. And that’s just in Kaecilius and the Ancient One’s opening tussle. It only gets crazier, with an out-of-body, astral projection fight (the weakest of the action scenes), time loops, a sentient cape, and a climax which is one of Marvel’s least destructive, yet nuttiest endings to date.
Fourteen films into the franchise, it’s undoubtedly important not only for there to be new vistas for the heroes to explore, but also for there to be fresh characters ready to step into the headlining roles in future Avengers movies, should there come a day that the likes of Captain America and Iron Man step aside. Director Scott Derrickson has ensured that the mystical elements introduced feel believable, grounded in reality, and crucially, in fitting with the rest of the Universe which previous filmmakers have built before him, whilst adding further depth and wrinkles to an already dense world. And Benedict Cumberbatch has effortlessly slotted in with an excellent performance as the detached genius (a role he knows well), Stephen Strange. No, we still don’t have a villain anywhere close to rivalling Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, with Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius being instantly forgettable, but the heroic side of things is at least covered.
As a purely cinematic experience, you can’t go too far wrong with Doctor Strange.
Rating (out of 5):