The manner in which Doctor Strange handles its titular character's origin story is not so different from Jon Favreau's Iron Man, as each character starts out as egotistical and reaches some form of redemption. Doctor Strange, however, breaks these boundaries because Strange's motivations are based on an even greater recklessness than Tony Stark's own issues. Strange believes he is above all others with intelligence, physical prowess, and skill as his greatest wealth, not armor and weaponry.
Benedict Cumberbatch was, of course, the perfect choice for Doctor Strange. He truly does exude a higher level of intellect and calculation to portray this character effectively, especially before Strange's accident. He plays the superhero part of Strange very well and, with a warm American accent to boot, throws the occasional Marvel-style joke every now and again. While Cumberbatch is definitely the star, there are other great performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordu and Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. Even Benedict Wong as the strict sanctum librarian gets a few chuckles.
The two disappointments in the film are two aspects Marvel has been struggling with lately: the role of the superhero's girlfriend and the actual villains. Rachel McAdams is sweet and realistic as Doctor Strange's love interest Christine, but she doesn't challenge Strange that hard as Jane Foster and Pepper Potts have done in the MCU. On top of that, there isn't that much to her character and she isn't very interesting as a whole because there isn't enough time devoted to her kinship with Strange. It's not necessarily a huge detractor, though, as it is refreshing to see a superhero story again that isn't about just saving the girl. The villain, Kaecilius, does at least have a decent backstory, but it's formulaic and absolutely gives off the whole been-there-done-that vibe. One can only hope that when the Infinity War finally arrives, Thanos will be a breath of fresh air from most of the forgettable villains in the MCU.
Of all the things to really admire in Doctor Strange, it's a visually stunning film and incredibly artistic. Early trailers drew comparisons to the film having a similar style as Christopher Nolan's Inception, but the artwork and detail involved goes way beyond that. Not only do characters run and fight in all dimensions and planes, but the very fabric of reality and visual imagery bends to the will of these characters and places them in incredible situations which opens up the imagination. Doctor Strange's first glimpse of the multi-dimensions harkens back to surrealism in the veins of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and even old Ken Russell films. A chase sequence with Doctor Strange and Mordu against Kaecilius's foes warps and twists London into a phantasmagoria of invention and the stuff of architectural nightmares. It's a game-changer for Marvel Studios, it takes the action and adventure to a whole new level, and it plays a new hand for what could happen with everyone involved in the Infinity War.
Even the musical selections and score are finally quite impressive. With the exception of a few recent films, Marvel has not had very good scores associated with their movies, with Henry Jackman and Brian Tyler's contributions yielding forgettable, formulaic results that lack consistent thematic material or any element which defines their identity. While this choice of composer for Doctor Strange can be a hit-or-miss depending on the score, it's refreshing to finally see Michael Giacchino tackle another superhero film (in a different direction!!) with extremely impressive results. It compliments Cumberbatch's character in the veins of his self-inflated ego by harkening back to baroque traditions. It experiments with surrealistic effects and new sounds when the multiverse and multiple dimensions are seen. It is tense where appropriate, melancholy when it needs to be, and majestic when Doctor Strange finally embraces his destiny.
It's unfortunate to see Marvel Studios still struggling with story, characters, and villains through familiar territory, as it's the only thing which holds Doctor Strange back from being exceptionally great. Unlike DC Comics' efforts, however, this film stands on its own shoulders for the visuals, the score, the daring attempts it successfully takes, and its well-rounded cast with great direction and a good script. It's a decent film with a lot of memorable aspects to it, and one trip definitely worth taking.