Doctor Strange is the latest comic adaptation from Marvel Studios to hit the big screen. Director Scott Derrickson is known more for his recent thriller/horror outings such as Sinister and Deliver us From Evil than for blockbusters, but he does well with this filmic leap into the world of mystic arts.
Benedict Cumberbatch portrays Dr Stephen Strange —a brilliant and arrogant surgeon who is driven to be the best until he loses the one thing he relies on the most. His journey is at the centre of this film. While he has always pushed the boundaries of modern medicine to learn all that he could about the human body, when he first learns about the mystic arts he is reluctant to believe. Once he accepts them as fact, he is driven to excel in them like in other areas of his life.
The exploration of the mystic arts leads to some mind-bending special effects in the realms of those in Inception which makes sense when we consider the two films' similar questioning of reality. In Doctor Strange we learn that what is our reality is only one of many possible worlds. Despite the controversy surrounding her casting in the role, Tilda Swinton proves to be a good choice for The Ancient One, bringing her cryptic gaze and quiet sense of her own power to proceedings.
What these modern action blockbusters really need to stand out from the rest is a brilliant villain and they nail this too. Mads Mikkelsen plays the brooding baddie Kaecilius and perfectly complements Strange here. A wonderful actor, it's great to see him in a big blockbuster again (Casino Royale) and interesting to note that back in 2013 he was considered for the role of Doctor Strange – that would have been a different film as I'm not sure he can bring the air of warmth that Cumberbatch brings to the narcissistic characters he plays - (Sherlock, anyone?)
Doctor Strange the character changes throughout the film with some lovely interactions with Rachel McAdams's Christine Palmer proving that he has a heart and, contrary to first impressions, does care about something other than himself.
In the end, the film becomes the story of doing the grand, right thing even though you might want to do a more selfish, smaller thing. While this ground is not new in films, and the idea of someone being lured to the dark side by the promise of glory, power or eternal life has been done to death, the comedic tone and the character development of Strange here make it entertaining if not ground-breaking.
While Chiwetel Ejiofor is fine in his role as Mordo, the character has a kind of earnest bore factor that I found it hard to buy in on, unlike Benedict Wong's character Wong who allowed for some of the film's funniest scenes as the custodian of the library and saw him earn his place amongst those known by just one name.
Like many Marvel films, we're left at the end with the feeling that the story is really only just beginning. We know one thing for sure though, it's going to be compelling viewing to see Doctor Strange alongside The Avengers crew in the near future.