Review: DOCTOR STRANGE (2016) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Review: DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

Review: DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

Following a terrible car accident that crippled both of his hands, Stephen Strange's (Benedict Cumberbatch) career as a neurosurgeon is all over. But he refuses to give up and spends his fortune trying every experimental medical procedure to heal his hands. When none of them works, he ends up taking advice from a former paraplegic (Benjamin Bratt) to travel all the way to a mysterious place called Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu, Nepal. From there, he meets Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his wise guru known simply as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who later teaches him the art of magic and mysticism. As Strange gradually mastering the mystical arts, he also learns about the Ancient One's major threat: a former disciple named Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) who has gone to the dark side.

REVIEW: Throughout the years since Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) breathed life into their first movie in IRON MAN (2008), the studio has taken various calculated risks in enlisting unlikely directors (Kenneth Branagh in THOR and the Russo brothers in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, just to name a few) to helm their comic-book movies with varying degrees of successes. Now, joining the roster here is Scott Derrickson, whose prior directing experiences are mainly horror pictures with the likes of THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005) and SINISTER (2012). DOCTOR STRANGE marks his first foray into the superhero genre and also his biggest-budgeted movie ever handled thus far, which reportedly cost an estimated US$165 million to make.

When I first learned about Derrickson being chosen to direct DOCTOR STRANGE, I was sceptical whether or not he's up for the task. Remember how he botched the sci-fi remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, his first big-budget studio effort which may have been financially successful but largely undermined by most critics? Not to mention his directing resume is mostly erratic, which doesn't exactly inspire immediate confidence.

So, this begs an all-important question: is DOCTOR STRANGE any good? Yes and no. What's good about this movie is the way Derrickson employs special effects to depict the mind-bending world of mystic arts, magic and illusion. Whether it was the opening scene involving the faceoff between Kaecilius and the Ancient One or the surrealistic INCEPTION-like moments where the buildings fold into themselves while the characters chase and fight against each other, the result is simply stunning. Derrickson even gets to make fun of his own genre expertise as a horror filmmaker during a hospital scene where he pulls off a couple of "jump scares" with amusing results.

As for the cast, Cumberbatch is spot-on as the brilliant but egoistic Strange. Despite all the controversy surrounding the gender-changing role of the originally male Ancient One as seen in the comics to a female version, Tilda Swinton's competent acting display is decent enough to brush off any possibility of bad impressions. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong, who plays one of the Ancient One's sorcerers, deliver solid supports as Mordo and Wong. Rachel McAdams displays a sweet yet likeable presence as Strange's close friend and fellow doctor Christine Palmer. Her role could have been a thankless part, but McAdams manages to make it worthwhile.

Review: DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

Although DOCTOR STRANGE has its fair shares of razzle dazzle that best experienced on the big screen (in this case, the IMAX 3D presentation shown during the press screening is worth watching), the movie does tend to work like a typical Marvel Studios production. Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill's screenplay is strictly by the numbers. The origin story surrounding Strange, who is first depicted as a wealthy yet arrogant neurosurgeon before he suffers from an unfortunate turn of events that forced him to see things differently and made him a changed person, echoes the similarity of MCU's own IRON MAN. Actually, there's nothing wrong with that except DOCTOR STRANGE could have been done differently in a fresh angle rather than sticking too closely to the formula.

The plot also gets too jokey for its own good. While displaying a few sense of humour is one of the mainstays in every Marvel movie since IRON MAN, Derrickson could have toned them down to prevent DOCTOR STRANGE from turning into a near self-parody. You know it when you see it.

Then there is the ending, which strangely feels anticlimactic the way Strange defeats his enemy. And speaking of the enemy, it's a shame that the talented Mads Mikkelsen doesn't give much room to shine with his antagonist role as Kaecilius.

DOCTOR STRANGE is far from a great Marvel movie that it could have been otherwise if Derrickson wouldn't rely too much on the genre trappings. Still, the movie remains fun and entertaining enough for a big-budget superhero blockbuster. Likewise, don't leave your seats too soon as DOCTOR STRANGE will feature a mid-credit and a post-credit scene.

Despite the formulaic origin story approach, DOCTOR STRANGE covers most of the essential ingredients that made this movie an enjoyable cinematic experience: stunning visual effects, decent cast and nifty action scenes. 

* This review is written courtesy from Walt Disney Malaysia IMAX 3D press screening *

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