Film Review: DOCTOR STRANGE (USA 2016) ***

doctor_strange_poster.jpgDOCTOR STRANGE (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Scott Derrickson

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen

Review by Gilbert Seah

The Marvel superhero DOCTOR STRANGE gets his first debut on the big screen complete with 3D. Though the character has appeared in a TV movie and animated film before, he is given a fresh treatment which is a good thing considering that there are already too many super hero action movies each year.

It also helps that the film is directed by a horror film director Scott Derrickson rather than an action director. Derrickson directed the two SINISTER films, THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE including the Hollywood version of DELIVER US FROM EVIL, the latter of which contained a lot of dead-pan humour, repeated in DOCTOR STRANGE. Those who have watched Benedict Cumberbatch in real-life know that this actor is prefect for deadpan straight face comedy.

Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), the world’s top neurosurgeon, is as rich as rich comes. He stays in a luxurious London apartment. But he has an ego as enormous as his wealthy possessions. His life is changed when he is injured in a violent car accident (well shot) that ruins his career. Strange sets out on a journey of healing, where he encounters the Ancient One, who later becomes Strange’s mentor in the mystic arts.

More satisfying than the action set-pieces are the special-effect set pieces. The first of these is the most impressive with a fight taking place on the side of British-type architecture where the windows turn into revolving folding panels. The look reminds one immediately of Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION, the film which likely gave Derrickson some inspiration. Like that film, characters also travel through portals in between different dimensions.

As expected in all Marvel film adaptations, Stan Lee provides his surprise cameo. Where he appears will not be revealed here, as it is always fun to spot him.

DOCTOR STRANGE contains less at action than the expected super hero action film. A bit too much time is devoted to Strange’s moping about everything. For all the film’s different twists on the action hero film genre, the results are conventional. There is the good guy (in this case a lady in the film personified by Tilda Swinton) that turns out questionable and the possible good trainee (Dane Mads Mikkelsen, MEN & CHICKEN, QUANTUM SOLACE) who turns out finally to be villainous.

But despite all these praises, the film begins to lag towards the middle. The film also descends into a conventional action film by the climax – the fight between Strange and the villain, which is a real shame given the initial promise at the film’s start.

The film contains too many puns that go with the hero’s name ‘Strange’ – a temptation that scriptwriter clearly yields to.

The Audience should stay for the end of the closing credits. As in the other films set in the Marvel Universe, there is a short clip teaser of what is to arrive in the next instalment.

It is also odd that DOCTOR STRANGE gets a post summer release unlike the other action hero blockbusters. This should work in favour for the film after a quiet weekend at the box-office where the previous week only saw one major Hollywood release (INFERNO).



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