As always I am perfectly up to date with current events and the timing for a review of Doctor Strange couldn’t be better. Or I am incredibly late but having just watched the movie last night this is the best I could do. After all, I live in Japan and Japan didn’t even have the flick in theaters until January. It was actually more convenient to just purchase it through iTunes than to go view it on a big screen.
Doctor Strange (2016)
writers: John Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
director: Scott Derrickson
I watch a lot of movies on my computer. As I mentioned above, the time delay for when movies are available here, and the cost of seeing them at a theater, means it is often more convenient and economical to just purchase a digital copy and watch them at home. Doctor Strange is one of the few movies where I thought that it might have been worth the effort to see on a huge screen. Perhaps even 3D. At least for the visual spectacle. As for those other little things, you know: story, plot, character, those were all pretty forgettable. But it was pretty.
Spoilers lurk below.
This is a hard movie to dive into a review. Where is the best angle of entrance? I wonder if this was the same question that the creators of the movie asked themselves. After all, the first scenes we are given are of two forces fighting on a mystical plane. That served to set the scene that this Doctor Strange was going to be more of a kung fu/mystical movie than a super science super hero.
Or is it? Marvel has pushed really hard for its MCU to be, in essence, a large group of science heroes. Even Thor, traditionally a Norse God, has been reduced to a space alien with interesting tech. And a large part of the real estate of this movie is spent giving exposition about how the magic in this movie comes from dimensions and energy. In a way all that served as a way of saying the the magic here is a very scientific form of magic. That those expositions work as well as they do is a credit to Tilda Swinton’s delivery.
Now, while I am not really a fan of the “magic is just technology we don’t understand” gimmick, I can’t really fault this movie for that. After all, this is an origin story and I suppose it does need it requisite explanations. What I can fault it for, is not being that good of an origin story.
There are so many elements and moving parts of this story that I never really felt a connection to any of them. Kaecilius had some sort of motivation. I’m almost certain I heard something about a wife. Maybe? But in the end he was just kind of doing bad deeds for bad reasons. And as I comic fan I know about Baron Mordo, but despite a pleasing performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor, there didn’t seem to be much of an arc to his character. It was more like they needed a sudden breaking point to do a “former friend turned enemy” story later on.
And that sudden break happens all over this movie. So many lines and elements might as well as had a siren going off saying “Important! Will come back into play at the end of the movie!” Rather than feeling like a clever use of set-up, it just felt like things being jammed in.
But really, the big miss in the movie is that I never really had a sense of who Stephen Strange is. Everything about him felt like the Cliff’s Notes version of the character. The Greek Chorus told us he was arrogant, but we never really got much to show us how he was any worse than any other prideful doctor. Not to make broad comparison’s but House was on the air for eight seasons. The bar has been raised higher than a doctor concerned about his percentages. Heck, even the good guy doctors on shows like ER and Scrubs were guilty of more overt arrogance than Strange.
But, even if we are to take if supposed aloofness for face value, when was his change? Again, we are more told that he is now better and great, but we never actually see anything happen.
He isn’t even that compelling of a character. Strange mostly came off as diet Tony Stark, and the quipiness and pop culture drops really didn’t help.
This was a visually compelling movie. But it was also pretty empty. And while the cast did an excellent job of propping up the story, it was ultimately a fairly forgettable film. I don’t know if this would be my least favorite of the Marvel movies, but it would be near the bottom of the list.