If you know me, you know I’m all in when it comes to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. I grew up reading both Marvel and DC comic books, and watching their respective cartoons and/or movies they had at the time; but I always leaned towards Marvel. Since Iron Man (2008), when Samuel L. Jackson showed up at the end to talk about the Avengers Initiative, I have seen every Marvel Studios outing in theaters and most likely on opening night/weekend. It’s hard to believe almost a decade has passed since Iron Man and now the latest in Marvel’s “Phase 3” run, following the success of Captain America: Civil War (2016), is the latest in special effects and the road to the next Avengers movie:
Iron Man 4 Doctor Strange (2016).
Benedict Cumberbatch makes his debut in the MCU as the highly talented and incredibly cocky Stephen Strange – a neurosurgeon with hands as steady as The Waco Kid. Strange suffers a severe car crash, rendering his precious hands practically useless, thus putting an end to his neurosurgical career. On a quest to get his hands to stop shaking, Strange embarks on a journey that takes him to a bald Tilda Swinton – known as The Ancient One – who offers him the opportunity to learn magic. Thinking this will cure his shaking, Strange accepts, and now we have Doctor Strange.
If I had ten seconds to describe this movie to someone, I would tell them if Iron Man and Batman Begins (2005) had a child, and then that child had some sort of love affair with Inception (2010), then the resulting offspring would be Doctor Strange. Tony Stark and Stephen Strange suffer the same issue that Thor ALSO has, which is that they are self-righteous jerks with tunnel vision who think only they have the answers to every problem. Really, every male character in the MCU suffers from this flaw except for Captain America, who was always a good person who believed in what’s right because it simply made sense at the time. That’s what makes Cap such a more compelling character to root for – because he’s just a good person. After his accident, like Bruce Wayne, Stephen Strange goes on a journey into the mountains and finds a secret society that has been protecting the world from more dimensional threats than The Avengers could handle (Because Marvel has to remind you The Avengers exist in this movie… As if the skyline shot of NYC with the Avengers Tower blatantly shining brighter than everything else wasn’t enough).
I do enjoy origin stories, and if you’re going to take notes from a good one, it should probably be Batman Begins. But that’s not to say Stephen Strange is an exact carbon copy of Stark or Wayne. He doesn’t WANT to be a sorcerer, unlike how Bruce Wayne wants to save Gotham or Tony Stark wants to atone for his past. He really stumbles upon this responsibility and he’s reluctant to take on such a heavy burden. He wants to be able to do the job he’s known and it does invoke his pathos more than Stark’s journey ever did. It’s only when Mads Mikkelsen comes into play to bring doom to the world Strange’s hand is forced into playing into this bigger game.
Mads Mikkelsen is such an awesome actor and I love when he plays the bad guy – he’s just great at it, there’s no way around it. Unfortunately, Mikkelsen suffers the same fate as just about any Marvel villain, which is poor writing and almost no motivation. It feels like I’m beating my head against a wall but Marvel has a serious problem with its villains being pretty much useless and yes, Mikkelsen does push the plot forward more than Marvel villains have done in the past, but I still wanted more of him, plain and simple. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Baron Mordo – Marvel’s obligatory black counterpart to the white protagonist (Stark/Rhodes, Cap/Falcon). While I love seeing white comic characters get diversified, it doesn’t make up for the fact that we still don’t have a black Avenger, plain and simple. Ejiofor is great in this movie because he’s a great actor and the same can be said for Tilda Swinton. However, it’s pretty obvious that these characters are great because of the acting more than the writing. Rachel McAdams is the “love interest” to Stephen Strange in order to humanize our protagonist, and while it’s a recycled trope we see in just about every movie, it’s done as best as it could be without coming off as forced. McAdams is never a damsel in distress, but if she wasn’t in the movie, I don’t think anything would have changed at all. Now that I got that out of the way, we can get to definitely the best part of Doctor Strange, and its saving grace: the visual effects.
Dear lord, was this movie a trip. Every action scene in this movie looks like the projectionist in the theater put a kaleidoscope in front of the projector as buildings and cars and roads just turn on each other like the hallway scene from Inception on steroids. But what makes it so great is that it looks great too! It makes me think, “No wonder Marvel mailed in the origin story, they put LITERALLY all of their money into the visual effects of this movie.” People are fighting with magic and spells Mortal Kombat style while NYC falls into itself. But don’t worry, no one in the real world knows this is going on because it takes place “outside of time”. There were points where I was getting nauseous with everything constantly spinning and turning while Strange runs up the side of a road onto a building where the glass is moving like scales, almost.
Doctor Strange certainly doesn’t break any new ground for Marvel in terms of story or villains, but its clear Cumberbatch is set to take up the Tony Stark mantle when Robert Downey Jr. finally sends in his resignation, so why not make it a visual spectacle to hook people on the character? Business-wise, it makes the most sense and I can’t fault them for that. Movies are as much as business as anything else and Marvel plays to get paid. It’s fun to watch, I can’t deny that, I had genuinely had fun watching this movie. Next for Marvel is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), and that genuinely excites me since the first was the most ambitious Marvel movie to date and they have a lot to top.