DOCTOR Strange, originally a character on the periphery of Marvel comics was launched onto center stage since the announcement of his Marvel Cinematic Universe adaptation.
The story of Dr Stephen Strange, a brilliant but conceited neurosurgeon who desperately seeks to heal his hands which were severely damaged in a car accident provides a fresh approach to superheroes, with Strange seeking improvement through the study and practice of mystical arts among the plethora who received powers by birth or scientific catastrophe.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Strange, and demonstrates an occasionally questionable New York accent laced with arrogance and bitter remarks to his sometimes lover Dr Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), but offers an engaging and believable progression from vanity, grief over the loss of function in his hands and his career and reluctant belief in the magical practices shown to him by The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Seeing Cumberbatch collapsed outside her temple, pleading with the last of his hope for help wrenches at the heart, a man who has nowhere left to go and has fallen from a very high pedestal.
Swinton works perfectly as the The Ancient One, a role previously represented by an elderly Asian male in comic form and re-imagined as a timeless Celtic warrior, and imbues the role with her trademark ethereal nature while the imagery produced when she knocks Strange’s astral form from his body is kaleidoscopic, a morphing, transcendent journey across starlit galaxies, shimmering mirror realms and nightmarish unknown lands.
The film excels in this way, producing scenes straight from the minds of MC Escher and Salvador Dali, with New York twisting and folding endlessly during a battle with the villain, a former student of The Ancient One known as Kaecilius who has gone rogue.
His characterization however is where the film falters, as Marvel’s usual standard of well developed characters and generic explosive visuals is inverted. Doctor Strange presents mind bending eye-candy scenes, but often lacks in fleshing out characters like Kaecilius besides a vague storyline about him wishing to give our world to Dormammu, an entity from the Dark Dimension with an insatiable appetite for worlds, and Dr Christine, who while injecting the film with a sense of normality and humor feels like an after thought in Strange’s life and the events of the plot.
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, another student adds further talent to the cast, and exists largely on the edge of events but hints at a future more developed purpose in post-credit scenes, while Benedict Wong as Wong provides the most comic relief though needs to do very little to achieve this.
In it’s entirety, Doctor Strange is an invigorating addition to a busy cinematic universe, providing sheer visual delight while occasionally stalling with underdeveloped characters, though due to strong performances from Cumberbatch and Swinton, this can be forgiven. The film takes us on a journey outside of our wildest imagination, and shows us that sometimes being strange is the best way to be.
By Sophie Chadwick