While there was no denying that superhero films would ultimately begin to cross paths with one another, it started to become the backbone of the Marvel formula. This resulted in the cheapening of individual stories in favor of writing the hero into the next Avengers title. Writer/director Scott Derrickson and co-writers Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill bring us back to older Marvel entries, where the individual hero gets all of the attention. Doctor Strange isn't the best that the comic giant has to offer on the silver screen, but it's certainly an entertaining adventure that's well-worth your time and ticket money.
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an egotistical neurosurgeon, who finds himself unable to stop his hands from shaking after a brutal car accident. After multiple surgeries, he still isn't able to continue his profession. He ultimately finds himself on a journey to healing that leads him to the world of the mystic arts, which will change his life and purpose forever.
This medical expert isn't the first Marvel character to have an overly-confident personality, only to face an extreme life obstacle. His ego is reminiscent of Tony Stark, although he reacts to his injury in a very different way. Now that he isn't able to continue his career, he has a psychological break that results in him pushing Christine (Rachel McAdams) out of his life. Some audiences will think that this is a more believable character trait, while others will find Strange to be downright unlikable. When he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), he's knocked down a peg. The overly-confident doctor discovers that there's much more to this world than what he thought. He believes that he can force success, as he did to become such a well-respected neurosurgeon. However, to utilize the very magic that he's trying to learn, he must surrender himself to external forces. This is a brilliant way to influence character based on narrative that does more than drive the plot forward. While the film certainly has a heavy dose of action, more focus is held on the lead character than we've come to expect from Marvel features.
The plot structure may continue to follow the classic superhero formula, but it's tonally quite different. There are scenes that include humor, although it's a lot less ‘jokey' than most Marvel films. It's not dark like the DC franchise, but it simply spends more time on its mythology than it does trying to come up with multiple jokes every scene. While this is a welcome change, the screenwriters have crafted a film with far too much exposition. The screenplay is constantly explaining every single bit of mysticism, which could have easily be inferred by watching the magic happen. Derrickson and his co-writers spoon-feed the audience to the point where it becomes frustrating. If they were to remove all of these unnecessary scenes, we would have a shorter and tighter film that would flow much better.
If it's action sequences that you're looking for, Doctor Strange brings some of the best fight scenes that one could possibly get from a superhero film. The climax offers one of the most inventive and fun showdowns Marvel has ever brought to the silver screen. Yet, this is where Derrickson explores some of the feature's darkest themes dealing with corruption that are portrayed in a unique fashion. It's interesting that the screenplay manages to handle the more intellectual elements better than most Marvel films, although it stumbles in setting up its inevitable sequel. Some of the characters begin acting in ways that simply aren't convincing for the narrative's sake, which make the film feel as if it's overly-manipulating character decisions for the sake of the franchise.
Disney has become well-known for its smart casting choices, and Doctor Strange continues this pattern. Benedict Cumberbatch is absolutely perfect for the lead role. He has the look and the ability to convey the character's evolving personality in a way that is completely convincing. Tilda Swinton is incredibly enjoyable to watch as The Ancient One. This is a fun performance to watch her portray, especially in her exchanges with Cumberbatch. Mads Mikkelsen is sufficiently intimidating as Kaecilius, as the stare that he holds throughout much of the film becomes soul-piercing. There isn't a single bad performance to be found here, as this is a stellar cast that clearly does a lot with what they have been given.
Derrickson has been delivering fantastically eerie atmospheres with films such as Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose for years, although this is his first big blockbuster. He does an absolutely phenomenal job in bringing Doctor Strange to the big screen in a way that will surely leave audiences in awe. His use of mystical imagery is gorgeous, especially as The Ancient One takes Dr. Strange on a journey that feels reminiscent of an acid trip. The 3D greatly enhances these sequences, as a considerable amount of depth is provided throughout. Enthusiasts of the technology will surely find this to be a good use of the format.
Despite a ridiculous amount of unnecessary exposition, Doctor Strange restores interest in superhero films with its unique tone and phenomenal action scenes. Even if you weren't the biggest fan of the Avengers films, this is still worth making the journey to your closest cinema to check out. It works as a standalone feature that utilizes a new tone and some of the most exciting action sequences that you'll see in any superhero film. Doctor Strange isn't perfect, but it's exactly what Marvel needed at this point in their franchise. Recommended.