It’s very rare that I get to go to the cinema; it takes something quite special to get me to part with my cash, but sometimes I settle for something Strange….
· Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange / Doctor Strange
· Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo
· Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer
· Benedict Wong as Wong
· Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius
· Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One
Previously in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Marvel has had great success with its modern film brand, bringing classics such as Iron Man and the Avengers to the screen, but also having great success with little know properties such as Ant Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. But in the year 2016, they took that extra step into the Twilight Zone and gave us, Doctor Strange.
Marvels First British Film
I know that there have been numerous rumors that Marvel would step away from its American comfort zone and give us a Captain Britain film or TV series, so maybe this is their way of testing the waters. With a stellar cast consisting of no less than four British actors, with a Canadian and a Dane thrown in for good measure, this is far and away the furthest Marvel have gone from their core American audience.
And that is just with the casting. The entire concept of this film is so far from the traditional summer blockbuster they have been used to putting out and it is so much better for it. In fact, I have done Marvel Studios a disservice with that comment, they have been carefully trying out different genres ever since Thor and Captain America were released in 2011. They were clever in their choices, giving the audience a big budget Fantasy film, followed by a superheroic war film, but ever since their (relatively) modest success, they have gotten more bold in their choices.
The year 2014 gave us the Winter Solider, Marvels first spy-thriller with possibly the least superhero influence of any of their films and Guardians of the Galaxy, a sci-fi comedy doing its best Firefly impression. By 2015 we were given a romantic-comedy-heist film in the form of Ant-Man and finally by 2016, Marvel decided it was time to give us Harry Potter meets Inception, crossed with the Matrix. And they utterly nailed it.
Channelling Steve Ditko
This film, more than any since the first Iron Man back in 2008, owes its look, feel and story line directly to the comic origins. Captain America had changed a lot, the Incredible Hulk owed more to the Ultimate universe than to the original comic (as did Jacksons Nick Fury for that matter.) Thor bore almost no similarity to the crippled Donald Blake alter ego of the 1960s and Scott Lang wasn’t even the first person to own the name of Ant Man.
However, this is Steve Ditko’s Stephen Strange in all its cosmic mind bending glory. I genuinely feel like I have been on an acid trip after watching this film (not that I know what ones of those is like first-hand…) I think the only issue I have with the look and feel of this film, is how much it also drew from the look of Inception. Doctor Strange’s original comics were very psychedelic and involved twisted alien landscapes. While we got a lot of that in the film, we also got huge amounts of New York City being twisted and folded. Don’t get me wrong, this took something that Inception did and ramped it up a lot, but really, it felt like a copy when a copy just wasn’t necessary. They could have used more of the twisted Dormammu landscapes and less of the folded city and made this feel utterly new and different.
Marvel Proves It Can Do Things Differently, But The Same
I have made a lot of how Marvel have moved from one genre to another throughout its Cinematic universe, but it has kept one thing constant throughout (except possibly for the Hulk film) – the humour. If anyone asks me why Marvel is succeeding and DC is failing (relatively speaking) with their film universes, it is because Marvel manages a tight-rope act. DC have been so worried about their films falling back into the camp humour of Batman and Robin, that their recent films have been utterly soulless. Marvel has managed a very difficult trick of making their films utterly real and believable, while still finding the perfect places for humour and self-deprecation.
What makes Tony Stark bearable is the fact that most of his jokes are at his own expense. What makes Steve Rogers human and not an unfeeling superman, the fact that he uses humour when he is nervous. In the same vein, what is the separates Doctor Strange from a dull, heavy adult version of Harry Potter? The perfectly placed humour.
I actually thought they had left it out of this film because the beginning is really heavy going. I took my 6 year old, which I realize some people might question, but she is a huge fan of Doctor Who and Scooby Doo, and frankly not scared by anything (unlike me who jumps at the slightest thing) and I knew this was going to be perfect for her. After the first 20 minutes I was really regretting that decision as it starts off more like an episode of ER than a magical film and culminates in a slow motion car crash that had her hiding her face in the popcorn.
However my initial fears were short lived as this moved from the mundane to the mystical and finally found its voice. The introduction of Wong helped enormously, but it wasn’t until the cloak scene that I realised this really was a Marvel film. Right in the middle of a massive action sequence they took the time out for humour. Given the nature of the peril at the time, it was needed, but it provided both a huge, ongoing laugh, as well as a massively memorable moment to sit along with Hulks ‘Puny God’ and Thor’s ‘he’s adopted’ as the best jokes in the MCU.
That for me is the beauty of the Marvel films, they combine action and excitement with humour and levity. This did it twice, both times to great effect and it completely surprised me. In much the same way as Guardians managed to defeat Ronan with a dramatic dance off, followed by a bang, this film was stolen by an animated cloak and a Groundhog Day ending. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for more and I really hope this gets the audience it deserves, because even when compared with the best the genre has to offer, this film is right up there.