Doctor Strange — the world is a hoax

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The sixth comic-book film this year just hit the screens worldwide, and it’s called ‘Doctor Strange’. After three major disappointments (‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’, ‘Suicide Squad’) that were a mesh of blandness, incoherence and a lot of generic CGI, I am glad to say that ‘Strange’, even with its shortcomings, is the third best superhero movie to come out in 2016.

The plot revolves around Stephen Strange, a doctor known for his flawless track record, but with a horrible attitude. We are quickly introduced to the way he interacts with others and his lavish lifestyle. It is all fun and games until one day Stephen crashes his car and cripples his hands. After Western medicine fails him, he is referred to a place in Nepal where it’s promised that he will be healed and accomplish great things.

It is an origin story, it seems familiar but has enough quirks and peculiarities to positively differentiate it from the rest. Strange is not unlike Tony Stark in the sense that he is a rich philanderer used to thinking that he is the centre of the universe. However, his sense of humour is much drier and more sophisticated than Stark’s. Benedict Cumberbatch is nothing short of remarkable in the role, as he imbues it with charisma and likability even if Stephen might come off as a blighter at times.

A person we are introduced in the beginning and set up to think is important is Christine (played by Rachel McAdams). She is a friend, and maybe something more, of Strange and is a doctor as well. McAdams is absolutely great at impersonating her character; it is a shame she so underutilised as later in the film, her reactions to certain events are priceless and relatable.

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tilda Swinton, who play Mordo and The Ancient One respectively, are also solid in their roles, even if Swinton is a bit one-note at times. Both their characters are especially well-developed throughout the film, especially Mordo. Mads Mikkelsen who plays the antagonist in the story does a good job and, as  with Cumberbatch, has great comedic timing.

‘Doctor Strange’ works best when it doesn’t try be different from other superhero films, but when it just “is”. The brief moments of the director’s greatness (the horror) are fantastic, but are too scattered to become memorable. Derrickson has a phenomenal way of incorporating the comedy into the story. There are no flat one-liners thrown right and left, but instead wry humour that showcases Dr. Strange’s personality. It never feels forced or out of place. In fact, the director relies on visual comedy more as opposed to hope that the script is funny. That being said, the film is surprisingly darker than your run-of-the-mill Marvel flick. It somehow strikes the perfect balance between wit and gravity.

There are no two ways about it, the most mesmerising part of the film are the visuals.. They are almost completely unprecedented, perhaps only ‘Inception’ and ‘The Matrix’ cominganywhere near the innovative ways the visual effects are used. You see cities folding and unfolding, multiple universes — all sorts of imaginative concepts. The 3D feature makes use of those by having a tremendous amount of depth and realism, even though in the context that’s a relative term. Moreover, the entire IMAX screen is filled for half of the film, which is a big positive as it immerses you into the action. Usually, I steer clear of the format and opt for places with 2.35:1 screens and Dolby Atmos, as most films are letterboxed in IMAX due to the aspect ratio and that irritates me. However, this is one of the cases where the extra height is used to enhance the experience: it shows the grandeur and scope of the film in the best way possible.

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The most enjoyable moments are when you see how Strange interacts with the people surrounding him; his wittiness and character traits are the most riveting aspect of the movie –  not the otherwise awe-inspiring fights to save the world.  Ultimately, the film struggles to decide what it wants to be:one about Strange and the way he copes with his crippled hands; one about his process of honing the craft of magic; or  one about how he applies it in order to defeat the villain.

As far as the villain and the third act are concerned, these are the two places most people could find fault. The film sticks with the old third act taking place on the equivalent of a Helicarrier over the city. It is anticlimactic and the multitude of events are somewhat disjointed. Some of what occurs after the second act doesn’t make sense, but as The Ancient One said, ‘it doesn’t have to’. After all, we are watching a film about a doctor who becomes a sorcerer, suspension of disbelief is expected.

‘Doctor Strange’ is flawed, but it might just be more enjoyable than every superhero movie that came out this year. To be such, it certainly needs to be special, and that it is.

Rating:8.5 out of 10

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