Doctor Strange is a beautiful but ultimately flawed Marvel film


 Doctor Strange header image

Marvel films are always some of the most anticipated films of the year by many moviegoers, and Doctor Strange was no different. The film was the subject of a lot of hype because of a stellar cast and the fact that Marvel’s movies have been consistently enjoyable since the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008 with The Incredible Hulk.  Of course, the quality of the movies has been inconsistent, and unfortunately, Doctor Strange is closer to the bottom tier of MCU movies than the top. The tier includes films such as Iron Man 2, Ant Man and the Thor movies, which are films that are enjoyable and fun,but aren’t what we have come to expect from Marvel especially after others such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

That’s not to say Doctor Strange is a bad film, and you shouldn’t see it, quite the opposite. The film is enjoyable and definitely worth seeing in theaters, if only for Chiwetel Ejiofor’s fantastic performance as Baron Mordo, a performance by Tilda Swinton in which the character felt tailor made for her, and some of the best fight sequences yet seen in the Marvel Universe. Though if you do get the opportunity, you should see the film in 3D IMAX. The director, Scott Derrickson’s, use of 3D in the film is on par with the beautiful films Avatar or Inception, especially in scenes in which Strange explores the multiverse or scenes in which Strange has battles with the villain Kaecilius, portrayed by a criminally underutilized Mads Mikkelsen.

Mads Mikkelsen in Doctor Strange

The problems with Doctor Strange stem from the fact that the film is formulaic. It’s another origin story in a sea of origin stories, and unfortunately the movie doesn’t take a lot of risks in regards to the formula. Again we’re introduced to a confident, arrogant, and supremely talented man who has no real emotional attachments and loses everything. The man then learns about self sacrifice, becomes a hero, and saves the world. The character this time is Stephen Strange, a world class neurosurgeon who is more concerned about being interviewed on CNN or getting a procedure named after him than saving lives. That is up until Strange has a car crash in which he is gravely injured and unable to recover. At that point, he takes a journey in which he ends up discovering his potential to be a hero and defeats the barely fleshed out villain, basically the plot of 2008’s Iron Man and countless other pieces of fiction. Benedict Cumberbatch does a decent job as Stephen Strange, but Robert Downey Jr. better encapsulated what feels like the exact same role.

Along Strange’s journey to hero, he meets the Ancient One, played by a fantastic Tilda Swinton, who opens up his mind to all the mysticism Marvel has to offer, and the scenes in which he is exploring the multiverse are the most visually interesting scenes Marvel has ever produced. It is these scenes in which the film is able to break the mold and really get weird and psychedelic. The time in which Strange is exploring is jaw-dropping and unlike anything seen before in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thankfully the movie’s inventiveness isn’t limited to the visual spectacle. The final scene in which the big bad is defeated is great. The fight isn’t won with a huge fight scene or a plot convenience, it is won with cleverness and a manifestation of character growth from Steven Strange.

Eye of Agamatto

Another issue with Doctor Strange is that many cool things happen in the film, but the moments don’t have any emotional depth and that’s a problem after seeing what superhero movies are capable of with Civil War or The Winter Soldier. Emotional moments occur, but the movie will have an ill-timed joke as opposed to letting a scene play out, and it creates a disconnect between us and the characters. Those decisions also make the film tonally inconsistent, and the audience can tell the director forced Doctor Strange to fit within the box that Marvel has created with all of their other origin stories.

One can understand why Marvel continues to use the formula. It has been immensely successful with many of the films within the Marvel Cinematic Universe breaking box office records. Doctor Strange was also a lot for audiences unfamiliar with the character to take in, so one can understand why the studio would want to ease the audience in using a familiar formula. There’s no doubt Doctor Strange will be another Marvel box office smash; the film is very enjoyable and a lot of fun to watch. The movie is just at its best when the film is taking risks and exploring new ideas, and one just has to ask themselves how long Marvel will continue their successes if we know what’s going to happen in a movie before we even see it. Thankfully the next origin film isn’t until 2019 with Captain Marvel, and hopefully Marvel will take some more risks between now and then.