One wonders why Marvel, of all franchises, is in a rush?
Super surgeon Doctor Stephen Strange has his towering ego dashed to the ground when he is in a terrible car accident that ruins both of his hands. Seeking any medical aid to restore his fame and fortune, Strange is directed to the mystical Ancient One, and from there his life is never the same again.
Oh Marvel… You really have audiences around your little finger now, don’t you? You can make anything and people will come in droves. I am starting to wonder if the Marvel bubble won’t so much burst as it will shrivel up in a slow, sad demise, if this latest installment is anything to go by.
I had very high hopes for Doctor Strange. Marvel movies are starting to get formulaic, it is possibly the most famous criticism now, and what could be more of a gear change and shake up than removing all the techno-babble, shrinking suits and super serums and have magic instead. Mystical, spiritual energies, other dimensions; a melting pot of possibilities and quite likely the glue to a much bigger Cinematic Universe that can finally leap from our own world. With a strong actor playing a character who is the antithesis of all those things, how can it go wrong?
They found a way.
Director Scott Derrickson is more synonymous with horror films: The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister and Deliver Us from Evil making for three of the five films he has directed. The film starting off with a near-silent scene in a mystical library, only to have a man beheaded by our film’s stock villain Kaecilius (who is sure to join the ranks of forgotten Marvel villains) you might think that this is going to be a Marvel film with a different tone. Progress further still and we have some surprisingly drawn out and sober hospital surgery scenes, the first act climaxing with the doctor’s accident.
But then things take a turn for the Thor: Dark World. While Benedict Cumberbatch fits the role, as do the other actors (including Tilda Swinton, her character’s Celtic origins literally explained in the script) the script is wooden and utterly forgettable. So much exposition and meaningless explanations was quite possibly the worst angle to approach this new dimension of the MCU. Even the humour seems forced at times.
Surely the action is good?
Remember the fight scenes in Batman Begins? The ones that are all elbows and mid-sections, without giving the audience a clue to what is happening? Yeah. Imagine that, only with energy weapons that dazzle lights everywhere. And the action is taking place on a Transformer. A Transformer the size of Manhattan.
Don’t get me wrong, the kaleidoscopic warping effects that dazzled in the trailer is great. For the first ten minutes. Inception pulled off rotating corridors and endless stairwells in two ways that Doctor Strange does not: by conserving the ‘wow’ moments, not splurging them all over the place constantly, and by using practical effects.
Am I just getting old, or are people blind to shoddy CGI now? Both this and Civil War have had glaring problems with CGI. What takes me out of an experience? A bendy Benedict Computerbatch bouncing around harmlessly in rotating corridors and over floating platforms that do not exist.
I felt really put out by Doctor Strange. Marvel’s track record for “origin stories” is really high, but this feels more like the wayward and overconfident sequel.
Elements are good, Cumberbatch is good; the first act is solid setup and gives old Sherlock a lot to work with. The costumes and set designs are decent. I can see these elements being used better in future Marvel films.
The final reality-bending trick was cool too, despite being desensitized to it all by that point, and the gratefully small amount of tethering to the MCU was welcome too. Some nice little nods (like seeing the Avenger tower in the city skyline) that make it feel connected without needless cameos.
But the pacing is a frightful mess. I didn’t feel like the characters went through sensible transitions of development; the plot just took leaps when it needed to and the characters just accept things when they need to.
It’s fun and entertainment is only skin deep, and the future quality of Marvel Studios productions can be called into question.
Additional Marshmallows: I would like to add, that is a generous score. Without Cumberbatch and the Marvel “Seal of Approval” this film is literally nothing.