Doctor Strange is the first big miss for the highly successful Marvel Studios. Where Captain America: Civil War was engaging and action packed, Doctor Strange is painfully conventional narrative with minor moments of action. Where Antman was a fun origin story, this one seems drawn out at times. Watching this movie reminded me of how I felt watching Green Lantern for the first time. Both films are decent enough origin stories, but these days in the Marvel World decent just doesn’t cut it. If anything, this proves that not every damn comic book has a narrative that translates well on-screen.
The film offers an opening action sequence that introduces us to Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) which sets the tone for the film. It’s at this point we get our first glimpse of the very arrogant Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Strange is world renowned for his work in the field of neurological surgery, and he isn’t above making sure everyone knows this. Tragedy strikes when he gets into a car accident, thus injuring Strange’s hands in such a way that he’ll never be able to perform an operation again.
Strange begins to lose himself as he frantically attempts to find a way to repair the damage done to his hands. After countless dead ends, he tries one last ditch effort to find a way to heal his hands and heads off to Nepal to find a spiritual healing center. What Strange doesn’t realize is that this healing center in Katmandu is a teaching center for those who wish to learn the Mystic Arts. This is where the audience is introduced to The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and Wong (Benedict Wong).
What has made most Marvel films so successful is that the characters are richly developed films, the narrative is written well, and the fantasy/action elements of the movie are at least realistic. In Dr. Strange, it would appear everything is in reverse. The visuals are bright/bold, and the fantasy/action elements are indeed jaw-dropping (If you plan to see this film pay to see it in IMAX). The characters are very generic and the narrative trudges along instead of the normal flow we are accustom to in previous Marvel films.
While I understand the need to set up an origin story for Doctor Strange, there has to be a balance between the origin story, character development, and the action that we are accustom to during a Marvel film. Director Scott Derrickson allows the film to spend way to much time in Nepal and not enough time seeing Strange grow into his role as Sorcerer Supreme. If the audience is to believe this timeline, he goes from complete sorcerer trainee to master of the mystic arts in record time.
Why didn’t Derrickson learn from previous Marvel films? Take for example Iron Man. In the original movie, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) didn’t just immediately go from being a weapons dealer to protector of all people in record time. He had to endure kidnapping and torture and the hands of terrorists. Now one would think that would have been plenty to change his outlook on things, but it took the loss of a fellow prisoner during an escape attempt to open his eyes to what he needed to do. Where’s Strange’s moment? In this film, he goes from being a doctor to being injured to being one the more powerful sorcerers in the Universe. Nothing in his narrative made me pull for him. When Strange does start to get a handle on his powers, my reaction was “Great … I guess.”
Mads Mikkelsen and Chiwetel Ejiofor both give incredibly bland performances. Mikkelsen is one of the worst villains that has been in a Marvel Film (and I’ve seen them all). Mikkelsen character is supposed to strike fear in the audience, and the response was something closer apathy. Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t lose himself in the role of Dr. Stephen Strange. He looks the part (and he does look cool), but his performance is more run of the mill than they dynamic performance that I was expecting.