Director: Scott Derrickson
Verdict: A lot of fun
Doctor Strange, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Marvel, the newest entry in the MCU behemoth, is a trippy, psychedelic experience that absolutely makes no sense of it’s own rules and essentially exposits jargon at you whilst distracting you with some of the best computer generated visuals maybe ever. It might just be my favourite Marvel film.
Doctor Strange follows Benedict Cumberbatch’s, (The Imitation Game, Star Trek Into Darkness, Sherlock), Stephen Strange, he’s essentially House, and arrogant, smart mouthed doctor played by a British person doing an slightly dodgy accent. When he loses the use of his hands in a car accident he becomes obsessed with making himself better leading to interdimentionality, trips you’d need to take acid to come up with and Mads Mikklesen, (Casino Royale, Hannibal) having all sorts of fun in his role. I’m not kidding, this film has a sequence that somehow meets the last act of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gasper Noe’s Enter the Void, and the title sequence of Doctor Who. If film doesn’t win the Oscar for best visual effects then I’ll punch a man.
The film has been preemptively criticised for ripping off Christopher Nolan, specifically Inception and Batman Begins, and whitewashing, neither of which I’m sure is entirely fair. When the dimension twisting… ‘stuff’, happens, the genius of it is that everything seems like a natural extension of the architecture of the room they’re in, so the Inception comparison is, for the most part, coincidental. The Batman Begins comparison is essentially that a man goes to the middle east to train, and to that I might add, that was a cliche before Batman Begins used it, and plus I really don’t remember Bruce Wayne learning to bend dimensions. In terms of whitewashing, director Scott Derrickson, (Sinister), has talked of how the casting of Tilda Swinton, (who is fabulous, btw), was intended to subvert the stereotype of ‘the ancient one’, and he talks a good game although I’m not sure quite how much water that argument holds.
It’s not just Swinton, (one of the best character actresses working at the moment, best known for her work in We Need to Talk About Kevin and holding an Oscar for Michael Clayton), and Mikkelson, who are fantastic in this film. I mean Cucumberbitch does the thing he always does of being an arrogant cunt, except here it’s turned up to 11 which in its own way is commendable. In the same way as The Social Network it sets out its platter immediately that ‘here’s your hero, he’s an absolute irredeemable arsehole’ before immediately in both films setting out trying to redeem him. Some of the best other turns come from; Rachel McAdams, (Mean Girls, Spotlight), who I have always liked and has really matured as an actress in recent years. Although her character is a bit 2 dimensional and cliche she manages to elevate it; and Chiwetel Ejiofor, (12 Years a Slave), who is always just a superbly magnetic screen presence.
The film is shot very nicely, I suppose with visuals like that it needs to be shot nicely but even in his worse written films Derrickson has always been visually stylish. I suppose that’s why he’s managed to make such superb step up from his last hit, Sinister, which is essentially set in a bungalow, to this eye-popping spectacular. He’s also helped craft a very witty script, which I enjoy. The sarkiness of the script will not help the inevitable Iron Man comparisons to come, but I rater enjoyed that sarkiness. Despite the Iron Man comparison, Doctor Strange really doesn’t seem like part of the MCU. There are of course fops to the MCU, the avengers logo on the New York skyline and a particular pleasurable post credits sequence but they seem more like compensation for cinematic continuity for a particularly individual film. This is for the most part Scott Derrickson’s fault, he is a director with vision and voice and not likely to be boxed in with an cinematic universe, and it is by far his best film. There are subjective drawbacks to having a director who up until now has just made horror films helming this; it is a particularly strong 12A, there is, to quote the BBFC, ‘injury detail’ and it’s strong injury detail, it’s not like your 7 year old will get bored at Doctor Strange, it has visuals and whimsy a plenty to keep them entertained, but in the same way as Contagion, they might get particularly creeped out by some of the more gory injury sequences. To be fair I’m stabbing in the dark, I was raised on 18 gore fests so I have no idea where normal people’s boundaries are.
I’m not much of a Marvel fan and I really enjoyed Doctor Strange, up until now my favourite Marvel film has been Thor for maybe the opposite reasons I like this, Thor has a Norse God and decides to make a small character drama in a Texas suburb, it has a lot of thematic substance, and Loki would not have been so charismatic in Avengers Assemble if his motivations hadn’t been so properly laid down in Thor. This film has, in the end, about as much substance as Iron Man, which isn’t a whole lot, but my god what style it has, it is a treat for the eyes, the most unMarvel Marvel movie and it’s a joy to watch. It’s funnier than Guardians of the Galaxy, and people seem to love that.