Marvel’s Doctor Strange: The Earth’s meh-tiest hero film (review)
Now, before all of the Marvel fans start biting my head off or any of the DC fans start clapping me on the back, let me get one thing straight before we begin: I thought the movie was good. It actually was, but not for the reasons most people think.
For me, I’ve always said the same thing when reviewing a Marvel or DC film. It doesn’t matter what property or franchise they belong to, I’m a fan of great storytelling. Unfortunately, DC has had a hit-or-miss year – emphasizing more on the misses than the hits – and still trying to find their stride. Am I hating on DC? No, I love their comics and there is more than a large enough pool of resources for them to pull from for future film ideas. Has Marvel always hit the mark? Well, no, to be frank. Do we all remember Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four? Or Ang Lee’s Hulk? Or what about the coup de grace of all these “wonderful” films like Ben Affleck’s Daredevil? Yes, Marvel has had some misses. I have no problem admitting that. The fact remains is that I, as a critic, am not impartial to whichever franchise has been in the game longer, whether it’s 16 plus years or just a few. What matters to me is storytelling and whether it is great storytelling at that. So, now that we’ve laid the groundwork, let’s jump into this!
Directed by Scott Derrickson, the film follows the tale of Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose life changes after a car accident robs him of the use of his hands. When traditional medicine fails him, he looks for healing, and hope, in a mysterious enclave. He quickly learns that the enclave is at the front line of a battle against unseen dark forces bent on destroying reality. Before long, Strange is forced to choose between his life of fortune and status or leave it all behind to defend the world as the most powerful sorcerer in existence.
The film is very familiar to fans, right from the get-go. If you’ve spent any time doing any research of Doctor Strange prior to seeing the film, then you probably know three-quarters of the film already. They were not lying that this film was going to be an origin film, and an origin film it was. The basic storyline of Doctor Strange is ripped prime from the pages of Marvel comics, and essentially, is a bit predictable. The one thing that has always seemed to be a looming threat for Marvel, in my opinion, has been the fact that because they have such a large amount of resources to pull from that it would create a film that fans would predict the storyline due to how readily available those resources are. Well, today is that day. Doctor Strange has a storyline that, because his character being such a unique hero in the MCU, the filmmakers couldn’t really delineate from the comics all that much. And consequently, the surprise and wow factor in the storyline isn’t really there. What does that mean for the rest of the film, however?
The casting for the film was well-conceived. I enjoyed watching Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Stephen Strange, as his ability to portray this egotistical character, and gradually showing moviegoers the breakdown of those barriers, seems effortless and very natural. I remember hearing the concerns of every Sherlock Holmes fan reach critical a level, when Cumberbatch was almost replaced by Joaquin Phoenix, but luckily didn’t happen. And it even seems as though Phoenix had a good spirit about it, as he made a quick cameo in the film! Cumberbatch fit the role much like Robert Downey Jr. in the role of Iron Man. They both seemed to fit the part perfectly, and, much like Downey Jr., Cumberbatch will probably play this role for another 16 years. But his role wasn’t the only one I was impressed by. Chiwetel Ejiofor, a man who can honestly do no wrong in my eyes, portrays a phenomenal Mordo. Ejiofor has always seemed to be of a Shakespearean caliber when acting, so watching his progression throughout the film made every each and every scene he was in so engaging. I loved watching him carry a simple dialogue with another actor, and just see how well he emotes without any hesitation. I do have a confession, however, every time I saw him on screen, all I could see was his performance as The Operative from 2005’s Serenity. This man was so contemplative and deadly in that film, and his performance in this film held a very familiar vibe to that role.
Despite the fact that Tilda Swinton’s role of The Ancient One was retrofitted to their modern day telling of the comic book tale, her sass and unique approach in the role made her an entertaining addition to the film. Swinton’s Celtic Sage of the ages was a role that seemed to fit her previous roles perfectly, as she portrays a mysterious authoritative teacher who may or may not be hiding something dark and sinister. As much as her meaningful moments with other actors in the film -though they were few – added to the somewhat monotone storyline, it seemed that her role could’ve easily been portrayed by anyone else, especially someone of Asian descent. I understand that Disney and Marvel wanted to interject some form of progressive change in to the film. I respect their standing behind their decision with positive apprehension, yet, the role didn’t stand out far enough to warrant the fact that this character HAD to be portrayed by Swinton.
A similar sentiment is felt with the casting of Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius, the biggest lackey in the film. Kaecilius, who probably had about as much time in the comics as Paris Hilton had acting in films, is a serious B-level villain, with appearances occurring early in the Sorcerer Supreme’s comic history, and ending shortly thereafter. To have such a weak villain played by an amazing actor like Mikkelsen seems to be a throwaway opportunity to me. There were times that it seemed that Mikkelsen wanted to incorporate more to his character than just the simple two dimensions allotted, but like a child in a Catholic school, got his hand hit by a ruler and told “No.” I would have loved to see his role fleshed out a bit more, as with the dreaded Marvel Villain Curse, it seems that they can’t seem to create a solid three-dimensional villain ever since Loki. And if you’re going to say “What about Thanos?” Please. Thanos has had maybe a total of 10 minutes of screen time total in all of his appearances. We haven’t even had a chance to see a proper dialogue with the mighty titan, so slow your roll. When his time comes, we’ll see if he breaks the curse, but until then, shhh.
The film did have one incredible performance that I’ve yet to see in any Marvel film to date and that were the special effects. The CGI used in the film was, by far, one of the greatest I’ve seen in an action film. To say that it was a Marvel version of 2010’s Inception is a farce. This film builds on the visuals of Inception, and then multiplies it by 100, as the ability to bend the universe in the way they did throughout the film was so creative and fun! I found myself enthralled with the way certain scenes were comprised, as the actors in the scene were in the midst of dialogue, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the way the walls were bending and folding in on themselves. Also, the amount of personality put into Doctor Strange’s cloak must have been watching Disney’s Aladdin, because that cloak was cool! That cloak added bits of humor to the film that didn’t feel forced, and helped break up some of the more serious scenes of the film. To say that the special effects gave an incredible performance doesn’t really give it true justice, as it was the special effects who honestly kept my eyes glued to the movie screen. The film may cause those folks who get a bit queasy at 3-D movies to test their limits, but it definitely is a fun ride to be on!
All in all, I thought this film was good. Not great, not poor, but good. I called it Earth’s meh-tiest hero film, and I meant it. It didn’t really add much to the MCU, but didn’t take away from it either, much like 2015’s Ant-Man. Meh, according to the Urban Dictionary, defines the word “meh” as a phrase “to be used when one simply does not care.” This film exudes that kind of mindset to me, as it didn’t really bring what films like 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger brought, or even what kind of character births films like 2008’s Iron Man did. This film could have done so much, and could have gone so far, but I suppose meeting a goal rather than not coming close to it leaves something to be said about the film. Of course, the same thing could be stated about meeting a goal as opposed to breaking it. Like I said, the film is good, and you will want to stay for the two end credit scenes, but don’t come in with the mindset that this film will change your view of the whole MCU. Marvel’s Doctor Strange is a film that will mystify and wow you, but not for the reasons you think.
Rating: 3/5 Atoms