Doctor Strange (2016, dir. Scott Derrickson)
Doctor Stephen Strange is one of the best neurosurgeons on the planet and he definitely knows it. Everything in his life changes when a near fatal car accident shreds the tendons in his hands and takes away his ability to practice his medical skills. Stephen begins searching for a cure and it leads him to a city in the Himalayas where The Ancient One resides. The Ancient One leads an order of mystics who transcend our physical plane to interact with and manipulate the elements of the multiverse. Skeptical at first, Stephen eventually comes around and begins his path to becoming the Sorcerer Supreme. Conflict comes in the form of Caecilius, a former student of the Ancient One who seeks to rupture the reality of our world and unleash Dormammu and his Dark Dimension.
We are fourteen films and nine years into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While characters considered 1st Tier have already been developed we’re now to those that are lesser known to the general public. Doctor Strange has always occupied a limbo between tiers, sometimes becoming an Avengers level figure and other times fading into slight obscurity. I can’t stay I’ve been a huge fan of the character, but Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo’s current run on the comic have me interested. The key to the character is to play up the out there, surreal other realms he explores and fights enemies from. In this way, the film understands Strange. It is full to the brim with strong surreal effects and is arguably the most visually appealing Marvel film to date.
Beyond the visual embellishments the plot is fairly thin. This is another origin story and like with most origin stories there is a formula that is followed very closely. Nothing that happens in the film will likely surprise you if you’ve seen any of the others. Character development is fair superficial, especially the relationship between Strange and Rachel McAdams’ nurse. That entire love story side plot felt completely pointless and could have worked better as simply a colleague Strange had wronged and now, seeing the error of his arrogance, sought amends.
There is an attempt at humor throughout and that was one of the most painful parts of the picture. Benedict Cumberbatch as never struck as me as particularly funny (though he was good in Four Lions). Not sure if it’s his timing or the actual joke itself but every single one falls flat. There is a Beyonce joke between he and Wong, the librarian at the monastery that film keeps pushing with the sense that there is something funny about this exchange. There is not. The film is at its best when it takes its subject matter with seriousness and Strange is not a jokey character by nature.
I personally am starting to feel fatigue with many of the superhero films. Warner Brothers have burnt bridges for me with their DC franchise. Marvel has become okay, and I can’t imagine where it goes after the next Avengers film it’s building to. At this point the formula has been so entrenched, I hope future superhero films can break it and go in some new and interesting directions. Not holding out hope, but it would be nice.