Marvel is famous for breaking into new genres with flare and savviness, making each fit its own image as well as giving audience what they expect. Esoteric films are not a major genre per se, but as wizardry and magic have become ever more popular, now was as good a time as any to bank off of the void Harry Potter left.
Let’s take a look at Doctor Strange.
Doctor Strange follows Stephen Strange, a wealthy and famous surgeon with an incredible gift for saving people. Unfortunately, he’s also a smug, arrogant jerk who refuses to take on impossible cases. After getting in a terrible accident, his hands are badly damaged and he can no longer operate. He goes looking for a cure and stumbles onto Kamar-Taj, the Ancient One, and her order of magic practitioners. As he becomes more knowledgeable, he learns of Kaecilius and his desire to have the world eaten by the dark, timeless entity known as Dormammu, which Strange must help stop. Basically it’s a magically-themed personal redemption arc with some silly details that the film covers by also being rather silly. There was a lot more humor than I thought, and it pays off for the most part.
At first, I wasn’t convinced that Benedict Cumberbatch was a good fit for the role, given how bad his American accent is. The thing is, as Strange is revealed to be a huge self-centered jerk, I realized it was basically like playing a more magical version of Sherlock and it all clicked into place. Cumberbatch has the kind of grand gesturing and biting cruelty that really makes this character come alive. I know there was a lot of controversy of Tilda Swinton playing the Ancient One but she has an excellent physicality and since she already looks kind of otherworldly, it really fits.
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays an excellent Mordo, a master who is strict and rigid about practice of the arts and helps to train Strange. When he goes rogue/evil/insane at the end, it’s very believable and even kind of tragic when you think of all he has given up. Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer is a great fit, able to hold her own against Cumberbatch’s over-the-top biting-ness while still be sympathetic and soft. The best actor, though, is Benedict Wong as Wong the librarian who is just a hoot in every scene and has the best comedic timing of them all.
Where this movie soars is the visuals, with the kind of trippy imagery that you’d hope from a production like this. The way the buildings bend and twist with new obstacles appearing everywhere or time freezing and reversing itself in peculiar ways. I think the effects look great all around, even the cosmic circles that had some people worried looked great in motion. The fights are well choreographed and well directed, with the integration of the magic being very natural and looking spectacular. This is a gorgeous looking movie, so if that’s what you’re most hoping to see, then you’re in luck.
However, the story really suffers from the weight of its own promise. That’s not to say that the writing is bad, but that there is so much to get in that ultimately the movie rushes through the end of its second act and seems to cut into its third. Once the second seal comes under attack and Strange gets his magical cape, the big battle, tragic death, and final battle all feels like it hits the ground running and doesn’t stop until the clever turn at the end. The structure just isn’t there to have the introduction of Strange AND the change in the system AND add depth to the lackey villains AND thwart the great evil. It’s just too much to do with no time to do it all.
In the end, Doctor Strange delivers on the visuals but falls a little flat when it comes to the plot. It felt more like an exposition dump than a fully fleshed out story . It’s no Ant-Man in terms of surprising competency but it still better than we all thought it would be. Not sure how to feel about the sequel bait or the fact that he will be in Thor: Ragnarok but we’ll have to see how it all plays out.
– Stunning visuals.
– Strong acting.
– Great humor.
– Story takes a backseat to plot exposition.
– Pacing is a little office.