In their continuing efforts to reinvigorate their ever-expanding cinematic universe, Marvel Studios has introduced another superhero into the fold. But this isn’t another dud origin story – it’s a film which explores complex issues such as alternate dimensions, time and the very nature of existence.
Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an incredibly gifted neurosurgeon whose work in the field is unparalleled. His intelligence is matched only by his arrogance, surrounding himself with his many medical distinctions and refusing to operate on certain patients. So one can imagine the pain Strange is put through when a car accident leaves him with permanent nerve damage in his hands.
Desperate to regain his abilities, Strange is encouraged to visit a mysterious temple in Kathmandu. There, he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swindon) and her disciples, who use the powers of sorcery to protect Earth from the more mystical threats. Pretty soon, Strange moves beyond wishing to heal his hands and instead uses his newfound powers to defend against Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a master of the dark arts and former disciple of the Ancient One.
Though it carries the Marvel logo and is set in the same universe as the Avengers, to label Doctor Strange a superhero film would be a misnomer. There may be a protagonist with extraordinary powers, and an equally powerful villain to fend off, but their fights do not involve the traditional fisticuffs. In their place is a battle of wits our characters engage in, resulting in some trippy visuals and stunning special effects.
If the imagery isn’t mind-blowing enough, then the film’s themes certainly will be. By drawing upon the multiverse theory – that is, the belief that there is not one universe but a number of parallel universes – Doctor Strange enters into discussions of nihilism, questioning whether concepts such as time and death have any meaning at all.
These philosophical discussions go far beyond any of the other Marvel franchises, though original they are not. The more alert viewer would probably recognise that Doctor Strange has taken its core ideas from the animated television series Rick and Morty. This is no coincidence, since the show’s co-creator, Dan Harmon, was brought in to assist with the screenplay. Thankfully, the film steers clear of the bleak, dark humour associated with the show – it has its place, but not here.
Clever as it is, the script would definitely benefit from some improvements. The plot’s structure is much the same as that of other Marvel movies, making it feel less original than it should. The dialogue is gawky at times, especially so during moments of heartbreak or “comedy”. And the film’s resolution does feel anti-climactic, but not overly so.
In what has to be the most creative superhero film in recent memory, Doctor Strange shows a willingness to explore thought-provoking ideas without alienating its viewers. If Marvel Studios continues along this innovative path, its characters will be around for many years to come.