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Doctor Strange – Movie Review

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Doctor Strange – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown to such a massive scale that in the last film, there were multiple heroes fighting many other heroes. The number of superheroes populating the comic pages is so large, we are still getting origin stories almost every year. Doctor Strange is the latest one and while there is some fun to be gained from its trippy visuals, the introduction of magical wizards to the world requires a lot of information be dumped on the audience. This affects the story and it is not helped by some of Marvel’s usual handicaps showing up. Director Scott Derrickson and the other credited screenwriters surprisingly keep the Avengers references to a minimum and more-or-less keep this a standalone adventure. However, outside of the kaleidoscope designs and a couple of inventive action sequences, this never truly clicks in a memorable way.

Doctor Strange’s first act is a surprisingly slow going one, but that is partly because it is difficult to get behind its title character. Benedict Cumberbatch does a solid job in the role, even managing a decent American accent which somehow makes his famously deep voice hit an even lower octave. However, Stephen Strange is far too unlikeable, making it a tricky task to root for his full recovery from a car accident. He lacks the roguish charm that makes Tony Stark such a winning character or even Cumberbatch’s modern-day interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, for that matter. This is clearly intended to make his later transformation into a heroic Sorcerer Supreme more meaningful, but that jerkiness remains largely unchanged through most of the film.

When Strange arrives at the temple seeking help with rejuvenating his surgical abilities, the audience is treated to multiple sequences where characters stop the plot to spout exposition. Derrickson will occasionally launch into trippy and visually impressive sequences showing multiple dimensions, but in order to get to those points, there are multiple explanations to justify them. One wishes the screenplay had opted for more of a “show, don’t tell” approach, seeing as how the showier scenes are the film’s highlights. One action sequence in a hospital has some fun with Strange having an out of body experience and also allows Rachel McAdams’s love interest more to do. An action scene resembling an M.C. Escher painting also takes full advantage of Strange’s newfound powers. There is just so much dull exposition required to get to those points.

One of the more consistently successful elements of Doctor Strange is the film’s usage of comedy. Cumberbatch’s dryness does suit the more humourous lines he is required to read, including a running gag with the temple’s librarian. He also gets to utilise his physical comedy chops as he tries to get a handle on his sentient magical cape. One almost thinks of the Magic Carpet from Disney’s animated Aladdin upon seeing the relationship between the two and how the cape helps in battling the antagonists. Meanwhile, Tilda Swinton brings an equal amount of authority and good natured humour to the role of the Ancient One. One of Marvel’s usual problems continues here with the main villain, who yet again is bent on destroying the world with a weakly defined motivation. Why the main baddies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the notable exception of Loki, continue to bore is one of the great mysteries of this franchise of films. With the vast history of notable Big Bads in Marvel Comics, why is putting a compelling one on screen so complicated? Does Spider-Man have all of the best ones or is something lost in translation?

There is some creativity to be found in Doctor Strange, but this stands as one of the weaker entries in this continuingly expanding superhero universe. Scott Derrickson certainly gives the production a visual flair to match the titular character’s abilities, but the familiarity of the Marvel formula is most evident here than it’s been in previous films. The difficulty in connecting with Strange does not help matters, even with Cumberbatch bringing his usual A-game to the role. The Marvel films are the most fun when they shake things up a bit, whether it’s the space opera escapades of Guardians of the Galaxy or the heist film hijinks of Ant-Man and one would think Doctor Strange would also present something different from the norm so established since the first Iron Man. Aside from trippy imagery, it does not.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE

Stefan Ellison