Doctor Strange: The Formulaic Acid Trip
Marvel has done it again. They’ve once again taken a property that no-one, outside of hardcore comic geeks, really knew of and made it wildly popular. First, it was Guardians of the Galaxy with a walking tree and a talking raccoon. I never thought that was going to work, and now it’s one of my favorite films of the MCU! Then there was Ant-Man, which, despite not being as successful as Guardians, still made a relatively unknown character popular with the general public, and allowed Marvel to deepen the Avengers roster a bit when Civil War came around.
And now, we have Doctor Strange – another property dealing with a character that isn’t part of the list of generally well-known heroes, and dealing, for the first time, with magic, no less! And again, I was a bit skeptical that Marvel would be able to make this work; but I shouldn’t have been, because by this point, they have proven that even their misses tend to be hits – and this is far from a miss. Though, it does have its flaws, which I’ll get into a bit below, without getting into spoilers.
Directed by Scott Derrickson, who also co-wrote the script with John Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill, Doctor Strange tells the story of a uber successful neurosurgeon who suffers a horrible car accident that renders his hands pretty well useless, and thus he can no longer run his practice. After spending his fortune on rehab and surgeries to regain the use of his hands, he spends his last dollars on a flight to Kathmandu in search of mystical healing. While the story itself sounds out of left field, the beats that play out through the course of the film are – for the most part – pretty much by the numbers. It’s an origin story that hits many familiar beats, hitting on all the Marvel tropes with full force (right down to our hero fighting a villain who is essentially his mirror), so if you’re looking for a story with the kind of originality that Guardians brought, you will be a bit disappointed. But otherwise, the script is mostly pretty strong, fleshing out some fairly complex characters. There are a few small issues with pacing that can seem a bit jarring, as an action scene or two kind of happen out of nowhere; but once you get into the dazzling chaos, it’s quickly forgiven.
The cast is excellent all around! Even the lovely Rachel McAdams, who doesn’t do a whole lot for much of the film. Benedict Cumberbatch is great as Doctor Stephen Strange, creating a snarky, smug asshole-ishness that is part Tony Stark, part Gregory House. There are definitely a few times where Strange comes off as a bit unlikable, which doesn’t last long, since
Sherlock Cumberbatch himself is quite likeable – and that natural charm and charisma is what makes his character work in a movie that could have been oh, so bad. Chiwetel Ejiofor does well as Mordo, the sort of mentor to Strange, and a very close disciple of Tilda Swinton’s The Ancient One. He plays it simple and down to earth in a way that belies the complexity of his character. Swinton’s Ancient One is a cool little take on the Sage archetype character, with a good dose of ass kickery thrown in. Also, surprisingly, Mads Mikkelson’s villain, Kaecilius, is actually a character that can be related to, in a way. He’s a bit closer to Zemo in motivation, but has more of a central role in the film’s narrative. My only disappointment is that they didn’t explore Kaecilius’ character deeper to further flesh him out, as he could have truly been a more three-dimensional villain than what we got.
Effects-wise, this is a gorgeous movie to look at. Ben Davis’ cinematography is nice and bright, and often wide, allowing great framing for the mind bending effects – which themselves are practically second to none. If Inception blew your mind, then all the city folding, galaxy sliding, wall to ceiling fighting will leave you catatonic with its sheer awesomeness. I saw this in 2D and have plans to go find an IMAX 3D near me and see it again! Also, the score for this is incredible. Michael Giacchino has created, quite possibly my favorite Marvel movie score to date – if not my favorite score, period!
Overall, despite it’s flaws, Marvel’s Doctor Strange is an incredibly fun ride that is well worth the admission price of an IMAX 3d ticket at least twice! Oh, and stay through the credits, as there are two stingers in the mid-and-post credits reel.
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