In light of its ever-expansive cinematic universe, Marvel has done its best to make each of its entries feel unique and different in order to prevent the superhero fatigue mainstream audiences will eventually face. “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a space-opera risk that ultimately paid off. Almost no one knew who “Ant-Man” was until his stand-alone film in 2015, where he won us over with his humor and charm. Launching three television series that are mostly independent of the films (“Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage”) seemed destined to fail, yet Marvel is pulling it off quite nicely.
“Doctor Strange” is the next step in Marvel’s departure into the unknown, introducing sorcerers and magic into its beloved universe. Directed by Scott Derrikson (“Sinister”) and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as our new superhero, “Doctor Strange” is Marvel’s biggest risk yet — and while it may have a few bumps along the way, the result is another success for the studio.
Before he became known as the humbled Sorcerer Supreme, Stephen Strange was a cocky and arrogant brain surgeon, much in the same vein as Tony Stark. However, after a car crash leaves his hands permanently damaged, Strange is forced to turn in his doctor’s scrubs in order to pursue his own medical help, despite none being available. Feeling desperate and out of options, he heads to the mystical lands of Kamar-Taj on a whim to try a form of spiritual healing.
Once there, he meets a woman known only as The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), and is introduced to other dimensions, magical realms and flying capes. Beginning a new career path of sorcery, Strange trains to become a spiritual defender of earth, and when an evil threat known as Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) threatens to destroy the known world, Strange’s newly acquired skills are put to the test.
While Benedict Cumberbatch may have been a somewhat safe choice to play the character of Doctor Strange, seeing how he’s a fan favorite on the internet, he does well in the role — given that he’s accustomed to playing a cocky genius from his role in “Sherlock.” Tilda Swinton’s casting may have been controversial (The Ancient One is an Asian male in the comics), but she delivers one of the best performances in the film. Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”) plays the character of Mordo, another sorcerer who helps Strange along in his journey, and marks another solid addition to the film.
Visually, “Doctor Strange” is also one of the most interesting movies to be released in 2016. Borrowing elements from “Inception” and “The Matrix,” the action scenes and cinematography in “Doctor Strange” are stunning to watch.
However, despite “Doctor Strange” being a step out for Marvel, the film relies on certain superhero clichés that the audience has seen before and has begun to grow tired of. The first half of the film feels all too similar to “Batman Begins,” as it tells a standard origin story without a whole lot more to offer. The film also suffers from the problem that most Marvel films have struggled with — a weak and forgettable villain, which is especially disappointing given Mads Mikkelsen’s acting talent.
“Doctor Strange” adds yet another layer into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is a box-office smash for the studio. While the film doesn’t quite dive into the mythology it could have and rather settles for generic Marvel mischief instead, the film can also be undeniably entertaining at times.
The question we’re now left with is ‘Where does Marvel go from here?’ While introducing magic into the world may create certain continuity problems for “Avengers: Infinity War,” we can rest easy for the time being under the sweet, sweet charm of Benedict Cumberbatch in “Doctor Strange.”