Review: 'Doctor Strange' shows us a whole new world

Secret ending: Two of them!

Running time: 115 minutes (~2 hours)

“Doctor Strange” is a superhero movie, the fourteenth in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It focuses on the rise of Doctor Strange, a surgeon who learns to master the mystic arts and becomes a supreme sorcerer on Earth (although not a Sorcerer Supreme). It stars Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange/Stephen Strange/Dormammu), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Karl Mordo), Rachel McAdams (Christine Palmer), Benedict Wong (Wong), Tilda Swinton (the Ancient One), Mads Mikkelsen (Kaecilius), with cameos by Stan Lee (as himself) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor). It is rated PG-13.

“Doctor Strange” has been highly anticipated because it adds another dimension to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though it could be said that since we’ve already seen deities, we’ve seen magic. Nevertheless, this is magic depicted as completely mystical, rather than some highly advanced form of science as of yet unknown. It won’t knock your socks off, but “Doctor Strange” still impresses by taking a high-concept hero and making him relatable and fun.


Easily understood and quantified magic

The problem with depicting magic in film is that the limits must be clearly defined and intuitively understood. Otherwise the audience will never know if the protagonist is endangered. While “Doctor Strange” doesn’t lay out the rules of magic as starkly as say, the Harry Potter series does, it does show you what the most powerful sorcerers are capable of, giving you a visual cue as to what magic can achieve. It can warp reality but not destroy buildings outright, manipulate time but not rewrite history, and that’s a crucial distinction to make when your main character’s power is potentially limitless.

A whole new world

Just like how “Ant-Man” showed us what a Lilliputian version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be like, “Doctor Strange” shows the world through a magical lens. Perspectives and gravity are continuously twisted as the characters battle in the magical realm, giving us a sense that this is truly a battlefield that our regular Avengers might not be able to triumph in. Well, except for the Hulk maybe. It avoids the standard psychedelic perspectives that you’d expect, while still remaining fresh enough to provide a unique take on magic.

Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One

Whitewashing aside, Tilda Swinton gives a rather compelling performance as the weary and conflicted Ancient One. Her slender frame contrasts perfectly with the skill and power at her disposal, highlighting the themes of appearance vs reality. In the end, we can’t help but feel sorry for the Ancient One, who has to bear the burden of the world’s safety on her tiny shoulders.

Climax comes full circle

The inevitable defeat of the villain is very cleverly tied to Doctor Strange’s personal conflict, in that he has to rise above his flaws to achieve victory. It also melds his great intellect with his arcane abilities, showing us why Doctor Strange is fit to be the Earth’s great sorcerer since he brings an unorthodox methodology to an even more unorthodox power source. In the end though, it all comes back to character, and Doctor Strange’s character triumphs are similarly echoed in his physical wins.


Benedict Cumberbatch’s uneven accent

The worst part about Benedict Cumberbatch’s accent is that it is incredibly noticeable at times, which means he’s laying it on too thick. For the bulk of the film, his American accent sounds perfectly in tune with his character and situations. But every now and then, that accent goes into overdrive, reminding viewers that this isn’t the natural way this actor speaks. It’s not a major quibble but just like in “Black Mass”, it detracts from his performance.

"Doctor Strange” is an exciting new foray into the magic of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes, unless you really don’t like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Should you watch this more than once? Nah.

Score: 3.9/5

“Doctor Strange” opens in cinemas:
- 27 October 2016 (Singapore)
- 27 October 2016 (Malaysia)
- 26 October 2016 (Philippines)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. He Tweets/Instagrams at Optimarcus and writes at The views expressed are his own.