Just when everyone thought superhero movies were getting dull, Scott Derrickson brings us Doctor Strange.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Every time a superhero film is announced I heave a sigh of dismay, and yet I keep walking out of Marvel movies filled with the same delight I used to experience as a kid slumped in front of the television watching action cartoons. Marvel have found that key formula; that fountain of youth to keep their movies eternally fresh. In a time when terrorism is omnipresent, presidential candidates are bigger than rock stars, and DC Comics would rather feature grumpy old ranchers protecting their cows instead of true heroes, Marvel rightfully remembers that superheroes are supposed to save people, and enjoy doing it.
Doctor Strange is a superhero movie that returns the Marvel Cinematic Universe to its cheerful beginnings. The core story regarding The Avengers has become very sombre – Iron Man and Captain America are about one wrong look away from tearing each other’s heads off. Doctor Strange shuts all that noise out and plays its own game, which comes with its own rules and consequences, and my word, it’s something else.
As a visual feast for our poor eyes, this is perhaps the greatest of all the Marvel movies. Things happen here that my most deluded fantasies could not conjure, and there is a final showdown along the streets of Hong Kong that plays with the logical parameters of time and space in a way that makes the best Star Trek episodes look frightfully linear. I’ve seen computer graphics employed masterfully in great films before, but the effects in Doctor Strange take the rules of our world and bend them out of reality. It’s what we all want good CGI to do: help the filmmakers tell a story, not tell it for them.
As a superhero concept, Doctor Strange is a success. How could it not be? Here is a character who has lived on paper (and on some TV screens) since the 1960s. He should know his way around a 120-minute movie by now. And while his destiny – unknowing everyman becomes messianic saviour because he is essentially the Chosen One – borrows heavily from many older heroic tales, Benedict Cumberbatch balances the surprise of learning about his fate and the well-worn experience required to battle demonic apparitions in the Dark Dimension with as much stoic panache as humanly possible.
As a movie that tells an unfolding narrative, however, Doctor Strange is a little less impressive. Strange basically follows in the footsteps of every arrogant jerk turned likeable pal, with Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) from What Women Want and Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) from Bruce Almighty serving as likely role models. Even his transformation via magical intervention is repeated. The rest resembles Star Wars outfitted with the folding buildings from Inception, or rather what Star Wars will become before the end of 2019. It all still works, though. I just wish the parallels were a little more askew.
Nevertheless, Doctor Strange is pulsating proof that Marvel seldom steps wrong and that their grip on their comic properties is so sure-footed they’ve managed to wait eight years before radically shifting the dynamics of their franchise. While DC is fumbling just to stand, Marvel keeps us guessing, keeps us satisfied, and ensures our astral projections remain spiritually aligned.
Doctor Strange is available in Australian cinemas from October 27
Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures