Before beginning this review for Marvel’s Dr Strange, let me ask you a question that has vexed many a fan of superhero comics across the world. Do you feel that in recent years, there has been a deluge of movies involving our spandex-clad, metallic-suit equipped superheroes that viewing them at such a regular frequency has become an exercise in exhaustion rather than an enjoyable experience?
Even with critically acclaimed flicks like Captain America: Civil War, watching the Avengers (sans Thor and Hulk) engage in a destruction orgy seemed almost like a banal cliché instead of leaving us agape in wonder.
Ironic it may seem, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe has actually injected new life and popularity into its rollercoaster but-at-a-risk-of-suffering-from-fatigue franchise with a series of smartly-made movies about its relatively lesser-known characters. Guardians of the Galaxy. Ant-man. Deadpool. And now Dr Strange.
Warning: Soft Spoilers
Astounding Special Effects Drive This Origins Movie
The formidable Benedict Cumberbatch plays Dr Stephen Strange, a brilliant neurosurgeon but an egotist to the core, with great alacrity. Dr Strange finds his hands have been rendered useless in a car accident, and with no practical solution left in sight, heads out to seek the help of the mystical arts.
There he encounters the Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton (expect a barrage of cultural appropriation posts from various websites again) and as expected in any superhero movies, discovers and shapes himself into a powerful practitioner of the mystical and martial arts. That’s the basic premise for you.
With a fairly uncomplicated origins story, what drives Dr Strange are the mind-bending special effects-some of the most complicated and impressive ones you will ever see on screen. Watching in 3D makes the movie seem like a psychedelic head trip that transports you into multiple cosmic dimensions with imagery so surreal and trippy that you can just gawk at the jaw-dropping amazement that unfolds.
Scott Derrickson, better known for his excellent work in horror- The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister- unleashes an explosion of visually arresting palettes and a boundless sense of imagination that will actually make you appreciate CGI once again.
It also proves that you just need the right vision to implement computer-generated special effects, and the result will be a dazzling spectacle that is Dr Strange, instead of the monotony that we are usually subjected to.
High On The Lulz Factor
When ridiculously crazy special effects and extended adrenaline-infused action sequences are both woven together in a magical tapestry, it may seem inevitable that the movie plot and dialogues would take a backseat.
However, Dr Strange is a clear winner in the humor department and every other scene is peppered with snappy quips and repartees. And yes, do watch out for Dr Strange’s kickass delightful levitation cloak. An inanimate object provides the most laughs in the entire movie!
A Thin Plot and A Cardboard Villain Pull The Movie Down
Dr Strange is not without its flaws though, and a thin plot and a weak villain are two key aspects that deny the movie its place in the apex league of the superhero movie pantheon. The story could have been more nuanced, with maybe a subplot here and there (although a big reveal is made towards the end), and Cumberbatch’s will-they-won’t-they relationship with Rachel McAdams is cute but not explored enough.
Maybe in the sequels? Also, a major grievance I had was regarding the main antagonist (played by Mads Mikkelsen, usually excellent in every role), called Kaecilius something, who is a cardboard villain without any sense of purpose or point.
It is an axiomatic truth that any superhero movie that seeks to achieve greatness has to have a friggin’ fantastic antagonist. The movie could have been more poignant also, with more emotional depth, as we saw in Civil War, though ‘too serious’ may not work well with every origin story.
The best thing about Dr Strange is that these drawbacks seem only like a minor irritant, for the stunning visuals and cheeky humor hugely overweigh any negatives, making the overall movie an extremely entertaining ride. Marvel has now surged so far ahead of the average-to-barely tolerable stuff churned out by DC that it will take at least 2-3 critically acclaimed movies from the latter to keep level with the competition.