Steven Spielberg once said superhero movies will “go the way of the Western”. I laughed and rolled my eyes. Here we had another disgruntled film elitist taking a shot at the new kid on the block because he’s popular. Little did I know his words would start ringing more true just a year later.
When Doctor Strange was made official, I was excited for many reasons and this film delivers on most of these. Benedict Cumberbatch is amazing, the special effects (especially on 3D IMAX) are worth the price of admission and the film is well-crafted and flows beautifully. But it felt just like a bonafide run-of-the-mill production. Another key in the cog. A beautiful but small piece of the greater puzzle that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Every year there is about four blockbuster superhero films from Marvel Studios, Warner Bros. (DC Comics) and/or FOX Studios (X-Men franchise) and I watch every single one in theatres. I enjoy nearly everyone but I can’t help but feel a bit jaded.
If the film, no matter how well-made and entertaining it is, doesn’t start to offer innovations to the storytelling or genre then it is just another regular film. By Marvel’s standards that’s still a fine film that will usually rate three stars and to a lesser extent with DC and FOX.
Here we had an opportunity for a Marvel film to create something new: Doctor Strange: the Sorcerer Supreme. Where the previous installments introduced the metahuman realm (Avengers), the scientific and technological realm (Incredible Hulk, Iron Man), and the mythological realm (Thor), Doctor Strange dives into the supernatural realm. Astral projections, time manipulation, sorcery. And yet it all felt too familiar but it isn’t necessarily bad:
Benedict Cumber-Badass: Marvel Studios delayed production of the movie until they were sure Cumberbatch was free to dedicate himself and within his first appearance in the film it is evident why. Like Robert Downey Jr. not only brought Tony Stark to life but elevated his profile, so did Cumberbatch with Strange. Cumberbatch seizes the role and never looks back and if I could nitpick one part, it’s him being way too likable even when he’s being a douche. Man crush confirmed.
Special Effects Supreme: I’d recommend few movies to see in IMAX 3D but Doctor Strange is one of these few. Along with Avatar, Episode VII and my guilty pleasure, Piranha 3D, Strange is one of the best 3D movies to come out in recent memory. The trailers only gave away a few elements of the weird trip you’ll go through when watching the film. And in a way, it’s Marvel teasing us what the mystic realm has in store in potential sequels.
Pedestrian Story: this is where the movie falters but not for lack of trying. As an introduction story to one of Marvel’s lesser known heroes, the studio probably couldn’t get too fancy with the script and delivered a pretty straightforward plot. Take out the special effects and Doctor Strange is indistinguishable from “generic movie A”.
It was also predictable and didn’t go beyond the usual, which is ironic for a film that talks about expanding one’s mind to start believing what doesn’t make sense. Here’s hoping the next film will put more into the script and go beyond fancy effects to keep the fans thrilled. The supernatural realm goes way beyond a psychedelic trip.
Initially, I felt underwhelmed by the whole film and it’s thanks to the script. A movie that deals with the supernatural/mystical should be blowing my mind not just dazzling my eyes but given the constrictions I understand. The script stayed true to Doctor Strange’s character and served as the token introductory film to a new character and a new mini-universe within the MCU.
I’m holding out some hope the sequel will focus more on the story and go deeper into what makes Doctor Strange’s mystical universe so special and how it’s different from Thor’s mythical Asgarde or the metahuman community. There is room for growth here. The possibilities are endless and I’m looking forward to seeing Strange tinker with his newfound powers a bit more and for Marvel Studios to push the envelope and start digging deeper into expanding on their ideas. ★★★☆