Doctor Strange does a lot of new interesting things on film, stitched together by many influences of before. Fights between souls, palavers with galactic beings, and foot chases along New York skyscrapers may remind modern audiences of The Matrix, Inception and various comic books but never before has it been seen on such a scale and never before with the witty and ass-kicking Cloak of Levitation. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is expanding possibilities for future adventures and even daring to switch up how their third act climaxes play out.
So it’s a little sad to report that Stephen Strange follows the path of Tony Stark a little bit. Stark was of course an arrogant tech genius lay low by a life threatening experience and imprisonment. While wounded his gifts and expertise remained unharmed even if his purpose in life was changed. Stephen Strange is arrogant as an incredibly gifted and brilliant neurosurgeon that has a car accident. It’s a key difference that Stephen’s gifts are taken from him and his arrogance takes a lot longer to be stripped away. Casual fans though may find too much familiar in this comic book origin story. The film becoming more interesting as he leaves behind love interest Dr Christine Palmer and sets forth for Nepal to find Kamar-Tag and learn how to heal himself from the teachings of the sorcerer The Ancient One ( Tilda Swinton). Strange proves a quick study (maybe a little too quick his first showdown with powerful sorcerers sees him handle himself very well for a rookie) getting help from Karl Mordor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong who is the keeper of Ancient Texts and gets most of the film’s best bits (Benedict Wong). Through them Dr. Strange becomes a healed man immersed with a new identity and purpose when a disenchanted former follower Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) starts an all-out war against the Ancient One and those that stand with her.
The action scenes and effects are first rate not just for their look but also for how fresh they feel. Marvel films recently have been criticised for all retaining an aircraft hangar/industrial park aesthetic and director Scott Derrickson may go some way to challenging this with old fashioned dressed up studio sets but also real location shooting in Kathmandu, London, New York and Hong Kong on the streets that look characteristic of those cities in particular. The cast which includes Rachel McAdams and Michael Stuhlbarg sometimes feel wasted here but the dynamic between Strange, Mordor, Wong and the Ancient One is strong. Mikkelsen may not get too much either neither being particularly threatening nor scenery chewing but he still gets a few chuckles and does his fight scenes well. The film is alive with the possibilities that this character and his realm of influence opens up. As the second half rolls on, Strange takes up his new mantle a bit too easily and set piece after set piece follow each other without any real further character development but the finale flips Hollywood conventions and revels in the tricks that Strange can pull off. There is a lot here to enjoy and with a little bit of luck it won’t be long before we see Dr Strange again.