Criticising a superhero film, particularly Marvel films, often comes with a thousand word disclaimer. One must qualify that you’re not holding the film up to the level of expectations for other entries in the MCU canon which have admittedly lifted the standards of the genre. By that I mean a lot of Marvel films appear to get a free pass because of the body of work, and once revisited they are often prove just O.K.
It is the entries that are allowed to color outside the lines – particularly “Guardians of the Galaxy”, “The Avengers”, “Iron Man 3” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” – where you experience something transformative that makes you forget about the glut of cinematic superheroes. Recent ‘safe’ outings like “Captain America: Civil War” and “Ant Man” feel like they’ve caved to corporate risk aversion tactics and so only dip their toe into the potential of what the film could be. The Marvel locomotive demands that each new film is a constant preparation for its inevitable contribution to the next episode of this movie serial.
“Doctor Strange” does deliver some inspired, mind altering perspective shifts for the character. From the first moment that Strange encounters The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and is casually blasted into the astral plane it’s completely refreshing. The visuals in the CG set pieces are impressive and for the first time this year, experiencing 3D gave a pitch of disorientation that paired beautifully with the inter-dimensional psychedelia or the mirrored dimension which attempts to out do “Inception” with perilous balletic cityscapes spiralling like a Rubiks Cube.
C. Robert Cargill, Derrickson and Jon Spaihts did a solid job with balancing the philosophical and grief driven pursuits, and universe ending consequences with solid laughs. A tremendous Beyonce joke cracks like that Whedon-esque wit but a broom falling and scaring Rachel McAdams’ Christine disappointingly shows the filmmaking team’s sense of building and releasing tension.
Cumberbatch makes total sense as Strange. If you’ve seen him as Sherlock, you know that he’s got the self assured cockiness that informs Strange’s posture. Cumberbatch did an excellent job of bringing desperation without becoming totally unsympathetic. Also the impossible has happened – “The Incredibles” rule of ‘no capes’ has an exception in Dr Strange’s levity cloak. It’s absolutely bizarre to say but when the levity cloak makes its grand introduction and made this Aladdin obsessed film critic feel all the warm and fuzzies.
Tilda Swinton is the aloof Ancient One and Sorcerer Supreme who has shades of Morpheus, Obi Wan and Colonel Kurtz and is, as you’d expect, great with what she’s been asked to deliver. Rachel McAdams does as much as she can considering that she’s cast as the “we really have disproportionately less women in this movie.”
Chiwetel Ejiofor is an unbelievable performer. In “12 Years a Slave” he shakes you to your core and conversely in “Serenity” he has an air of hypnotic intrigue. In “Strange”, he’s a passenger. Despite the film’s best efforts to make him feel integral to Strange’s ability to conquer the film’s bad people, he’s a footnote in this story to set up for greater future involvement.
Loki must have broken Marvel’s mould for villains in the MCU that any attempts by casting or conceit continue to fail big. When you cast any actor that’s played Hannibal Lecter to be a villain in your film it seems like a chance to just hand them the reins to get psychopathic. Unfortunately the utterly tremendous and effortlessly complex Mads Mikkelsen gives a performance reminiscent of the talent and the eye make-up of Russell Brand. His power hungry zealot is chattier than a Bond villain and that exposition hacks away his menace.
“Doctor Strange” is fine, but it’s as transient and unmemorable as a dream.