Benedict Cumberbatch brings his talents to the MCU in Doctor Strange, leaving behind his usual warble and instead going American in his depiction of the arrogant and rather unlikable Doctor Steven Vincent Strange. The redeemed character ark is a tricky one to pull off, because if you fail and don't bring your audience around by the end of the movie, they simply won't like character and that in turn will impact on their impression of the film as a whole. Perhaps that's true for us to an extent, because while we did enjoy Doctor Strange to a degree, and despite the fact that it's visually sumptuous in a way we haven't seen since Inception, something didn't quite click.
It's still an enjoyable superhero movie, make no mistake, and just as you would with any other Marvel movie, you can expect to be well entertained for a couple of hours. The production values are typically decent, the special effects are convincing and well integrated, the character and costume design is first-rate, and the story is witty, playful, and full of fan service. Yet somehow it doesn't quite equate to brilliance, and we suspect that has something to do with Strange himself. We're not even talking about Cumberbatch's performance (although the accent isn't the most convincing we've ever heard from a Brit in Hollywood) which is largely well done, it's more the story and development of the character himself. Two hours just isn't enough time for him to come full circle, and while we certainly didn't dislike him come the roll of the credits, we weren't screaming for him to return in a sequel either.
It is a visual treat, of that we can be certain. Some of the scenes, where arcane magic is used to rearrange whole city streets in double quick time, are breathtaking. In fact, there's so much going on at times that it can be confusing on the eye, with too much shifting detail moving across the screen. Another nod needs to go the cape that adopts to not-so-good Doctor, which is convincingly animated and provides some nice slapstick moments, moments which can't have been easy to film. The magic effects during combat are also fun, and some of the duels make for great watching.
The story is played out by an accomplished cast, albeit it one that feels a little unbalanced. Cumberbatch headlines, but the always dependable Mads Mikkelsen puts in a workmanlike shift as the villainous Kaecilius, although we'd argue that his motivations are underexplored. Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo) support Cumberbatch as he waves goodbye to his arrogant ways, and there is some great interplay around Swinton's character in particular.
However, despite a great cast, some decent visuals, and all the usual trimmings you'd expect from such a polished operation, Doctor Strange doesn't quite hit the same high notes as other MCU titles, at least not for us. It's reliable entertainment, sure, but it's not a classic entry into this increasingly crowded collection of films.