Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Doctor Strange

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, and Mads Mikkelsen

Director: Scott Derrickson

115 minutes (12) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Disney DVD Region 2
[Released 6th March]

Rating: 8/10
Review by John Paul Catton

First, I have to declare some vested interests; I’ve been a fan of Marvel Comics ever since I was about six years old. Having said that, I realise that I’m not exactly the target audience for this film as Doctor Strange is aimed at a new generation of fans. It’s trying to introduce a new character into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and also trying to bring in mainstream moviegoers more familiar with Star Wars or Harry Potter. So here it is at last, directed by Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, 2005; The Day The Earth Stood Still remake, 2008) and written by Jon Spaihts, C. Robert Cargill, and Derrickson himself.

I admit that I went into the cinema with a sense of cautious optimism. I was determined to give it a fair chance, but hopefully not be too much of a gushing fanboy about it. I also didn’t want to dismiss it too quickly if it didn’t meet up to my expectations. A live-action Doctor Strange film, with cutting edge CGI to do justice to the trippy visual concepts featured in the comics, has been one of the most anticipated events in ‘superhero movie’ history. So how could it live up to the hype, the promise, and the dreams that we’ve had ever since the 1970s? Fortunately, it’s brilliant. 

It’s not just ‘interesting’, or ‘fairly good considering the Hollywood formula’, it is awesome in every sense of the word. After 15 minutes I went into a trance state and stayed there for the next hour and a half (IMAX 3D cinema, you see). Doctor Strange is intelligent, scary, witty, touching, and visually gorgeous. It’s got all of those things in spades, because it’s striving to be accepted as a character piece, not just a plot-driven spectacle. In my opinion it succeeds, because of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange. He’s incredible - and utterly convincing. By the end of the film, you are in no doubt that he is the Master of the Mystic Arts. He’s ably supported by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Tilda Swinton, and Madds Mikkelsen in the cast, with each actor’s performance fresh and full of energy.

Unless you’ve been living in the Dark Dimension for the last couple of years, you’ve doubtless heard of the controversies regarding the casting of The Ancient One, Wong, Mordo, and even big Ben himself as the title character. The PC sniping put Derrickson in an impossible ‘lose-lose’ situation, which he constantly acknowledged and explained in interviews. Well, we all know how Hollywood works! Go in with an open mind, and just watch the film for the quality of the acting.

Despite my enthusiasm for the story, there are still things with which I was disappointed or puzzled about. There is the matter of the pacing. We first see Kaecilius steal pages from the Book of Cagliostro, which presumably takes place before the film’s main action. Then we see Strange’s car accident, his rehabilitation, his search for a cure, his journey to Nepal, his training with the Ancient One, and then Kaecilius turns up again to kick ass. How long did Strange’s spiritual journey take before he became Master of the Mystic Arts? What was Kaecelius doing during the time? Did it take months, or even years, to decipher the spells written on two pages of parchment?

This nitpicking, however, doesn’t detract from enjoying the movie as a whole. A huge thank you must go to visual-effects supervisor Stephane Ceretti (responsible for the Oscar-nominated VFX in Guardians Of The Galaxy, 2014) for creating a cinematic experience that comes close to recreating the psychedelic creations of the original Doctor Strange artist, Steve Ditko. The influences of those visual effects reads like a huge shout-out to the history of film and art trippiness: Inception, The Matrix, Altered States, 2001: A Space Odyssey, M.C. Escher, Mandelbrot set fractals, and of course Ditko himself. It’s no wonder that Ceretti and his team have received another Academy award nomination. 

Okay, so I might have veered into fanboy gushing after all, but the thing is - audiences actually want to see this succeed; even the individuals who didn’t take to Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the Doctor secretly want to see people love it. This is going to be the story that will fascinate a new generation of dreamers, just as the comics did. 

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