Doctor Strange is a revelation for Marvel. After three phases of more of the same, Marvel has chosen a hero whose roots lack the usual superhero cliches. The character of Doctor Strange embodies a world of magic that opposes the scientifically oriented world of rich geniuses, strongmen, and super-soldiers that much of the comic-book world leans towards. Certain aspects of Doctor Strange do succeed in casting a new vision of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The visuals are trippy, creative and gorgeous and it also seems as if the studio is taking a tip from the DC Extended Universe’s book and paying more attention to their musical scores. However, it stops there, as, on a storytelling scale, Doctor Strange is nowhere near what it should have been, or what Marvel needed it to be.
Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the title character, Dr. Stephen Vincent Strange. An expert surgeon, he spends his days operating on patients that will further his career, relaxing within his massive apartment loft, and hitting on one of his career counterparts, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). Many will compare Stephen Strange to Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark; however, there is a distinct difference. Stark was an arrogant snob, but there was a kindness and sadness hidden underneath his billionaire, playboy exterior. Doctor Strange is just a jerk through and through. There is no sign of a well-meaning kindness. If it weren’t for the car accident that would eventually ruin his career by severing the nerves in his hands beyond repair, he would have never sought the greater good. Hell, his main goal after the accident was to get back to his old life as soon as possible. Not to mention the accident was due to his own arrogance and absentmindedness that probably harmed others as well, but nobody cares about that.
As I was saying, the event to rock Strange’s world and begin his quest to become the sorcerer comic-book readers know him as is a car accident that crushes his hands to the point where they are constantly shaking, and to be a surgeon you need a steady hand. In his dismay, he searches for Kamar-Taj, a training ground for sorcerers that helped heal a paraplegic several years earlier. There, he begins his training under the tutelage of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), but only after he shows his determination, or desperation, by waiting outside the door of the dojo for several hours after the Ancient One showed him the astral plane and other dimensions through a series of intense and psychedelic images.
His training soon leads him to become a full-fledged sorcerer, and quite a talented one at that. Strange astounds the librarian named Wong (Benedict Wong) with his ability to read and memorize many of the books of spells and techniques in a matter of days. Strange says that it is thanks to his photographic memory. Is that also how he was able to master many of the sorcery techniques that it probably took many of the other people years to even understand? It is just a bit convenient how quickly he is able to master many of the arts, or is that nitpicking?
If it wasn’t already clear, Doctor Strange does little to expand upon the Marvel Cinematic Universe formula. Beneath the psychedelic visuals and concept of magic over science, there is very little to differentiate this outing from the rest of the MCU. It follows all of the same steps that I have grown quite weary of.
I have always been able to kind of look past the distracting humor that plagues the MCU, but this time around I just couldn’t. Not only is the plot formulaic, but the writing surrounding it is dull, lazy and unfunny when it tries so hard to be. The lack of laughs is terribly obvious as there are attempts around every corner, but none of them land, and some even manage to ruin otherwise intense sequences. A movie such as this with so much world-building and lore behind it should not have to rely so heavily on laughs, especially coming from as talented a director as Scott Derrickson, whose filmmaking history consists of mostly atmosphere-relient horror films.
The writing also hinders much of the characters as these seem to be the most thinly written of the entire MCU. The actors portraying them do an acceptable job, especially Cumberbatch who attempts to embody the character as best he can, but there is little room to excel within such a controlled and uninspired script. It feels as though it was taken out of an assembly line with all of the key points highlighted and placed in their specific spots. Also, without an effective script, despite the apparent beauty of them, the visuals felt empty. They were just a thin layer of colors and shapes placed upon the screen to cover up an exceedingly bland final product.
Doctor Strange also continues the MCU’s legacy of churning out underdeveloped and underwhelming villains. Even despite the massive talent that is Mads Mikkelsen as the villain, who brings a raw power and passion to his performances unlike any other actor in history, the antagonistic aspect of the story came out artificial and forced. It was the classic villainous plot: a man who was once good abuses his power in order to bring on a new world order that he does not quite understand himself. This all leads to yet another CGI showdown at the end that forces the hero to use the one ability that everyone urged him not to, but he has no choice, right?
Doctor Strange lacks what I would have hoped for within a movie such as this. It’s lack of new ideas despite the talent behind it bring up a question not of a lack of original ideas, but of a lack of creative freedom. Hollywood and filmmaking is an industry, what the studios are churning out are products. It feels like studios have become more concerned with what is praised within focus groups as opposed to offering new, creative ideas. Steven Spielberg has predicted that superhero films will soon go the way of the western, and if studios continue to prohibit filmmakers from crafting their unique visions, they will. Doctor Strange’s visuals are a step in the right direction; too bad the story is just like everything else.
2 out of 5