Marvel Studios has a higher success percentage than ANY other studio. While it is true that their films are tailor-made to a pretty specific fanbase, what was once thought of as a niche audience has now been expanded to attract everyday filmgoers based on the expertise in which they have made a majority of their films.It seems that almost every year has a new Marvel film which people claim to be their favourite… and it’s happened again. Although I thought nothing would ever top Captain America: Civil War or Deadpool, it looks like we may have another very strong contender for one of, if not the best Marvel films ever made.
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is one of the best neurosurgeons in the entire world. A steady hand, calm, cool and collected it seems the only thing he can’t quite get a grip on is his personal life and his rather bloated ego and attitude. While he does have a romantic history with a fellow co-worker Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), he is basically married to his work. That is… until a terrible car accident renders his hands unable to perform delicate procedures and thus he is forced to seek help to correct his ailment. Strange eventually encounters a mysterious place known as Kamar-Taj, which is run by a group of sorcerers headed up by a wise sage known only as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Together they must stop a fallen pupil (Mads Mikkelsen) from bringing darkness to the planet.
Much like most Marvel films, this movie has its roots in reality (for a while at least) but also veers into the fantastical elements of the story’s hero far more frequently than past incarnations of Marvel comics on the big screen. In doing this kind of far-out story, it is important to still be able to connect with your audience on a grounded level or else you run the risk of being a stunning failure like the ridiculous Gods of Egypt film in which they didn’t even seem to care. This film pulls that off excellently. We start out with a character in Dr. Strange who is not altogether likeable and despite the fact that his cocky demeanour never really dissipates as the film progresses, the character itself still changes and adapts while also giving us something tangible to hold onto at the same time.
Nothing ever feels like it is happening just to advance the plot. Of course, in a film like this you will need plenty of those moments but the way they pull it off feels very natural and there isn’t an over-abundance of characters that forces some of them to be thin and more under-written than others. The plot itself is interesting and I enjoyed how they didn’t go overboard with trying to explain this strange world but they also gave the viewer just enough to be able to interpret and understand the conflicts at hand. A good fantasy film will always tie to something reality-based and that’s really what the film has done in this case.
Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly cast in the title role as this guy can pull off just about anything. While I don’t see the hoopla surrounding him in an aesthetic sense, I am on-board with how great of an actor he can be when given the necessary tools. While watching him in this role, I saw elements of Hugh Laurie in House and almost imagined that this would be his journey were that character ever to become a superhero. Of course, Benedict is not as cantankerous as that. It is a fully-realized performance and another great one to add to the Marvel stockpile. Not to be outdone is Chiwetel Ejiofor who plays fellow sorcerer named Mordo. He is a very thoughtful character and Ejiofor has the ability to convey that with facial expressions sometimes even all by itself without the dialogue. Tilda Swinton carries a lot of gravitas as the mysterious Ancient One. She plays a character that doesn’t show a lot of emotion on the surface so it speaks to her talent that she is able to make us feel something for her as a character. Benedict Wong rounds out the main gang of good guys and has some great comedic timing (it’s all about that Beyonce bit) despite mostly being a serious character. Rachel McAdams is a solid sort-of love interest and Mads Mikkelsen makes for a sinister villain.
This is the part of the film that really excels… and that’s not even to diminish the efforts of the other excellent aspects. The visual effects on display in this movie were some of the finest I’ve ever seen. From one especially intense drug trip-like sequence as Strange quickly learns about this strange new plane of existence to scenes in which the world is almost literally coming apart, the movie never lets up and it is no surprise that the budget was upwards of $150 million. In fact, a lot of the effects reminded me of Inception with the way in which skyscrapers are literally bending in half as our heroes attempt to traverse through the city.
The effects are 100% CGI-rendered and done beautifully. In fact, if this film does not win Best Visual Effects at the Oscars this year (or get nominated at the VERY least) then I believe that the Academy should all be put in jail for fraud.
Another instance in which we debate if this is the best Marvel film ever made, this was obviously excellent as everyone expected it to be with awesome performances across the board, mouth-watering special effects and a terrific self-contained story. Bring on Thor: Ragnarok!
FINAL RATING: *****
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)