“Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain.” became a meme-approved quote from the MCU’s time-wizard during the climatic groundhog day sequence of Scott Derrickson’s 2016 contribution. Defending his title as one of the coolest Avengers – satisfying blue robes and the Eye of Agamotto at the ready – Dr. Steven Strange may play a key part in the Avengers’ uprising during this month’s Endgame, despite his origin film being poorly ranked in the Marvel fan consensus.

I’m picky with comic book movies. I appreciate Snyder’s heavy saturation because a Superheroes’ turf should be rich. I tolerate the humour that’s matured over time. I applauded Thor: Ragnarok’s psychedelic thread. I loved Captain Marvel and I hated Wonder Woman. The morals surrounding the Avengers franchise is the MCU’s strongest hand, but this delicate handling of character development is not always implemented in the heroes independent outings. Doctor Strange may not hold a great amount of philosophythat you would somewhat expect from tales of venerable sorcery – but it carries a lot of what my heart wants from a live-action adaptation; a strong colour palette, healthy dose of trippy set pieces, Tilda Swinton’s humour and as far away from Patty Jenkins as possible.

One thing’s for certain, Benedict Cumberbatch is Strange. Strange that his facial mannerisms resemble any otter on the planet, but more importantly his ability to encompass Steven Strange from his uncanny likeness to Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s artwork, to his endearing relationship with his sidekick, the Cloak of Levitation. Cumberbatch’s injection of charisma and quick-witted humour to Derrickson’s vision – much like Swinton’s one-liners “Have you seen that before in a gift shop?” – sets a rhythmic pace to the narrative that’s supported by the sincere Rachel McAdams and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s calmness.

The imminent threat to Strange and Swinton’s the Ancient One is Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius, whose sprinting terrified us all if not to distract trypophobics from his clustered eye-scales. The mere notion of Mikkelsen as a villain remains just enough to dub his performance as worthy, despite looking puzzled while acting with Mister Green Screen. Strange and Kaecilius’ battle of the Sling Rings and their chase through a crazy rendition of Inception are mind-bending set pieces of great scale and excitement that effectively translates the extent of power Strange learned at Kamar-Taj. No therapy bills were necessary for the headstrong doctor, after being awakened to a mystical labyrinth of multi-dimensional manipulation that literally turns the world as we know it upside down.

While Doctor Strange has room for improvement in developing its characters full potentials, it’s still confident and reassuring that Derrickson has a handle on the mystic arts – despite his forte being horror –  that will surely progress in the highly anticipated (on my part) sequel. Strange may be nothing more than dust right now, but I bet he’s cooking up a bargaining chip for Thanos as we speak…

 


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