So I watched Doctor Strange…
I think we’ve reached a point where Marvel should just be given a key to Federal Mints so that they can just start printing money. They have the formula to making entertaining superhero movies down to a tee. While every one of their productions might not be remarkable, even their average work – like this film – is still more than worth the price of admission.
Okay, basic plot: Dr Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a world-renowned neurosurgeon with a mountain-size god complex. His world is shook when – after a car accident – his hands are irreparably damaged, preventing him from performing surgeries. Strange goes on a quest, to regain full function of his hands and goes bankrupt in the process. Short on hope, he is told that the answer to his problems may not lie in science but in the mystic arts. He travels to Kamar-Taj – a small city in Nepal – where he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) – Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme who begins to train Strange in the mystical and prepares him to save the world from an impeding threat.
I’m going to start this review off with a fair bit of criticism but I did enjoy watching this film and am excited about seeing Strange join the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The major problem I had with this film is that it never quite fully expands this new, magical world that we’re being introduced to sufficiently. The film feels like it’s stuck in second gear – constantly introducing elements without ever truly exploring them. I remember thinking halfway into the film, “when is this film going to stop starting and dive into its plot?”. The film feels like an extended introduction and, as such, lacks a satisfying climax. There is plenty of cool action and entertaining fight scenes but since the film perpetually feels like it’s in its first fifteen minutes, nothing feels at stake and the film’s climax, therefore, falls flat.
This lack of progression isn’t only evident in the film’s plot but also in the character of Doctor Strange. I didn’t like him; actually let me rather say, I didn’t connect with him. Strange reminds me a lot of Tony Stark/Iron Man. Both are these arrogant geniuses who have to take up the calling for something beyond their own happiness in order to save the world. The key distinction in the characters is that (at least according to the movies) Stark chose to better his life and be less selfish, while Strange just stumbles into it and has nothing in the way of remorse necessitating a shift in his personality. This lack of shift makes it difficult for us to appreciate the character because he’s presented as such an asshole in the beginning of the film and continues to be one all the way to the film’s conclusion. Yes, he becomes this hero but without ever really changing and – because of this – I had no reason to appreciate or even like him.
The one thing I truly loved in this film was its visual effects. There are certain scenes where magic trumps the rules of gravity and logic and results in some extraordinary action sequences. Plenty of the action in this movie reminded me of Inception where in the dream, buildings can be folded, rotated and the landscape is more of a weapon than just mere scenery. Director, Scott Derrickson captures these moments beautifully with beautifully flexible camera work. The special effects used to create the magic are also top notch and this just helps the film feel more real. This film is also quite funny and has the expected Marvel level of quips and one-liners. Benedict Cumberbatch does great work in this film as its lead even though his American accent was often annoying and sounded forced.
Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tilda Swinton make up the film’s supporting cast and they all do well in their respective roles. I felt the script was often unbalanced and didn’t give us enough of their individual characters. This is, in particular, a problem when it comes to Ejiofor’s character, Mordo. Those familiar with the comic will know the significance of his character and given his prospective future involvement in Doctor Strange films, it would have been great to see more of him and Strange interacting.
Now, I can’t review this film without discussing Tilda Swinton being cast as the Ancient One – a character who was originally a Tibetan elderly man in the comics. Apparently the filmmakers wanted to avoid the stereotypes which would arise from having an Asian elderly male be the teacher of mystic arts. I just think that’s a weak excuse to justify whitewashing. I personally believe that they didn’t want the character to be Tibetan because China is a huge market in film and it’s clear that more and more films are pandering to Chinese audiences. It makes business sense because success in China can literally turn a film from box office bomb to blockbuster. However, I think film studios should be honest with the public and, more importantly, themselves about what their true intentions are.
A final complaint that I have regarding this film is one that I have with all films that involve magic. The screenwriters never establish the rules of what makes one magic user stronger than the other. Is it the amount of spells they know? Is it natural magical inclination? Is it the amount you practice? We never know and because of this, every fight is rendered pointless because you have no idea what odds are heroes need to overcome to actually win.
Overall, I enjoyed Doctor Strange more than this review might suggest. It’s fun and entertaining but in the long run is nothing more than average. Marvel just have things figured out so brilliantly that even an average film can become a success. I didn’t mention it but the villians in this film are extremely unremarkable but it’s a Marvel film so that was a given. If your goal is to keep up with the MCU then this movie needs watching, if you’re a casual fan you don’t need to strain yourself to see it. 7/10