DOCTOR STRANGE

Another six months, another Marvel movie. With five TV series, five short films, and now on their fourteenth feature, it’s been nearly impossible to escape from the phenomenon. With such a huge variety of talent that’s been utilized over the years, their projects have largely ranged in quality. Some are actually very good, heartfelt stories, while some are forgettable and quickly slapped together to keep the narrative going. Some are just dumb fun. However, they all have this consistent tone, structure, and formula they adhere to; both to their success and detriment. Sometimes you get a unique director, such as James Gunn, or a Joss Whedon to put their own stamp on it, elevating it above the formula. For the most part, though, you always know what you’re going to get, but is that necessarily a good thing?

Doctor Strange follows our titular protagonist, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), an arrogant, yet brilliant, neurosurgeon. After a fateful car accident that renders his hands useless, he travels to a rumored mystical region in Nepal for healing. There he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who teaches him to unlock the magical powers we all hold within. With these new powers, Strange realizes he may be destined for something greater.

When you’re making a movie for a studio that’ll make you strictly abide by their strict set of rules (i.e. Disney), it seems like it’s difficult to be creative. It really depends on which director they get, and whether they have a unique vision. There’s nothing new in the story department here. It’s your standard origin story, featuring our hero coming to terms with his powers and himself, leading up to a big confrontation at the end. It’s almost frustrating by how rigid it follows these standards. A great actress, like Rachel McAdams, is absolutely wasted in her 10 minute role, in some poor attempt to give our hero a semblance of a love interest. The pacing is way too quick, as well. I felt there could have been some time to slow down in the beginning and near the end, but it felt like the filmmakers were rushing to get it over with. Almost like they just needed to get this movie out there to keep the machine chugging.

The visuals are where the film truly shine. With so many gritty action films lately, it was actually refreshing to see something with a more fantastical element. Lots of magic folk shooting colorful spells at each other, all while leaping across buildings that are morphing and converging together. It’s some of the most visually awesome and trippy stuff I’ve seen in the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the overall storyline was pretty generic, I was actually impressed by how the ending took a clever turn, in both the action and story department. It’s these visual touches and overall world that really set this apart from the other films. Also, big props to everybody involved making this entire thing coherent. This is the first comic book film I’ve seen in a while where I wasn’t completely lost or confused. Somewhat ironic, considering the psychedelic nature of it all.

Benedict Cumberbatch owns the screen as Dr. Strange, with charm, wit, and a commanding presence. You really feel his pain and misery in the beginning, sympathizing with him, although he’s not the greatest person. He really embodies the character. If there’s one thing Marvel and Disney have gotten completely right thus far, it’s the casting… even if they do waste some wondrous character actors, like Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen. They’re fantastic as always, but like everyone else besides our lead, they’re mostly left on the sidelines, or worse… cringe inducing comic relief. Seriously, it felt like every single character, even our villains, were way too clever and sarcastic. I sometimes felt like I was watching a comedy film with the constant barrage of jokes, except I wasn’t really laughing. A majority of it felt horribly out of place, especially when the stakes get so high.

Adapting C-tier (at best) comic book characters offers a lot of questions. Who will be the audience, other than hardcore comic fans? How can we market this more bizarre material to the general public? Who even cares about Dr. Strange? Fortunately for them, Marvel and Disney have struck gold by crafting a winning formula that easily integrates all of these fantastical characters onto the silver screen. They keep to that routine with ‘Doctor Strange, essentially giving us more of the same, but we were lucky to have had such a visually exciting director like Scott Derrickson to give us a more memorable affair this time around. It’s just frustrating that Marvel produces shows such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage; shows that really tap into the themes, ideologies, and psyches of these characters, while these other characters are relegated to more uninspired fare. I guess not all heroes get the treatment they truly deserve.

6.5/10

Soundtrack: 10/10, for use of Pink Floyd

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