Movie Review: Doctor Strange.
Despite being a safe and generic origin story, gorgeous 3D visuals elevate Marvel’s latest offering.
Doctor Strange (2016)
Directed by Scott Derrickson ,who up to this point has directed nothing but horror movies, we get the origin story of Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Stephen Strange (that’s DOCTOR Stephen Strange to you) is as brilliant as he is egotistical. A mish-mash of House, Dr. Oz and rather tellingly, Tony Stark, our protagonist is just cruisin’ for a karmic bruisin’. Literally. His comeuppance comes via his own hands…to his own hands.
The loss of fine motor skills is kind of a big deal for a surgeon, so our Doctor exhausts every cutting edge method science has to offer trying to rehab his moneymakers. After learning of a man that accomplished the impossible feat of becoming fully mobile after a c7-c8 spinal cord separation, our Doctor heads to Kathmandu to find a Celtic mystic. Because that’s where they live, right? Magic happens and we get a fast paced yet extremely standard action movie. The end. Or is it? You’ll have to stick around for the second stinger to find out.
Dr. Strange was an invention of Steve Ditko in the Silver Age of comics. This era was famous for it’s plethora of iconic, white as wonder bread, exact damn same origin story having characters. Take a talented white male. Make sure he’s an asshole. Humble him with tragedy. Give him powers. Lather, rinse, repeat. Marvel might be kicking DC’s ass in the movie theatres, but at least DC characters have interesting origin stories. Which must be why they keep shoving Batman’s origin in our faces every chance they get.
Marvel has managed to avoid the fact that 50% of the Avengers have the same damn setup by tweaking a few origin stories (Ant-Man), using unique genres to bolster the plots of others (Captain America and Thor), and adding some interesting and unconventional lesser-knowns to their offerings (the Guardians of the Galaxy and the upcoming Black Panther movie). Eventually their luck was going to run out, though, and here we find ourselves.
The Mystic Mash
The mystical setting and slew of Academy Award capable talent (Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor; Jesus! They could have just filmed all three of them going for a danish and I’d have watched it. Maybe they can get in on that sweet road trip Professor X and Logan are about to have?) can’t shake the feeling that we’re watching Iron Man 3½. Furthermore, the movie isn’t a genre movie, it’s an every-genre movie. We get a little heist flick, a little kung-fu flick with lite parkour, a smidge of a romance story, a dollop of a training montage, and just a tipple of mind games a la Inception.
This amalgam is saved from being either boring or incomprehensible by tight, fast pacing. We never get to stare at any element for too long, which gives each little cinematic theft the feeling of being remixes of other movies you probably liked. It’s like a mix-tape of all your favorite songs, only played extremely fast and loud by Trans Siberian Orchestra. It doesn’t elevate the film to greatness, but it makes the vanilla a little tastier.
By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!
What isn’t cookie cutter are the visuals. This movie was made for 3D. It’s essential to its very existence. From scenes that look like Jareth decided to turn his Labyrinth into the Danger Room, to renderings of Mt. Everest, to a fight that happens while time is running in reverse (one of the best fights of the film BTW) this film uses the third dimension as deftly as James Cameron’s Avatar. None of it feels gimmicky or tacked on. It’s sumptuous without being an all out assault on your eyes or inner ear.
It’s telling that this is probably the first movie in 7 years to get the technology so right. Anyone can do the trick where something looks like it’s about to poke your eye out. Several times in this film things feel like they are coming from behind you into the frame, and one time I could almost feel the “woosh” of something buzzing past my ears to get into a shot. Which makes me sad that something so technologically gorgeous squanders just about every other aspect by being a mediocrity.
If Marvel movies have one glaring Achilles’ heel, it’s in the villain department. I’m sorry to report that this movie decided to keep that staple of the MCU intact. It’s criminal to waste Mads Mikkelsen on the boilerplate “our best student turned heel” cannard. But here he is, with no meaningful setup, no malevolent charm, just a few glares and some cutesy joke moments. Mads getting to punch (and most likely cooking him) Benedict Cumberbatch probably has an entire slash fiction section on reddit, so why couldn’t it be more satisfying? And the real big bad, ugh…
I understand that Dormmamu is just some mystical doofus in a magenta leotard with a burning briquet of Kingsford for a head in the books, but didn’t we learn from the Fantastic Four or Green Lantern that turning your corporeal foe into a CGI force of nature is a fucking stupid idea? The only good part about the final showdown was that it wasn’t solved with brawns, but with a clever gambit. Damned with faint praise, indeed.
All the Rest
As far as the typical boxes a MCU offering checks off, it’s (surprise surprise) standard fare here. We get a nugget of info for the next Thor movie, the Infinity War movie, and the obvious set-up for Doctor Strange 2. We get a Stan Lee cameo, whoop de freakin doo. There were no major Easter eggs that I caught, though I’m sure the internet is already working on that task like it was the Lindbergh kidnapping.
So in the end we have a movie that moves the pile the bare minimum, placing all the onus on Doctor Strange to stand on it’s own. Which it does, but mostly as a visual tour de force. This movie is never bad or boring, but the only part of its elements that begs a view is if you are going to see it in 3D. If you were planning on making an appointment with this Doctor, make sure you have Platinum coverage, as the walk-in clinic version will most likely leave you wondering what all the fuss was about.