It took me a little time getting to this. Not because there were issues to sort through, but rather I needed to figure its place amongst the Marvel Pantheon before I could render a verdict.
Let’s look at this film from two angles: how is it as a movie and how is it as a Marvel movie.
When Benedict Cumberbatch was cast I initially had mixed feelings. I know the caliber actor that he is, but I just didn’t see him as the Sorcerer Supreme. I also wasn’t high on Chris Evens or Chris Hemsworth in the early stages of their films, so I know better than to trust that initial impulse. Instead, I trusted in Marvel and waited for its release. In short, he nailed it, pulling character and color directly from the comics while staying within himself.
His job was made easier with the performances of Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who do more than hold their own once granted screen time. Honestly, there isn’t a performance that detracts from the story’s depiction. Like all movies some faces are more memorable than others, but you won’t find any that disrupt from the journey.
That journey, a story penned by Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill – that many writers normally isn’t a good sign – serves as the Doctor’s origin and introduction. And while its formulaic pacing and structure match most films of similar genre, it still manages to pull you along wondering what’s next. It does have a very typical origin story layout with hints of self-loathing antihero, but the richness given to the film’s background fills in the holes. So will you be surprised? Not by the outcome. But the ride that gets you there is a good one.
Probably the most crucial element, besides a strong story and good casting, is the film’s appearance. You can’t just call it Doctor Strange, it has to look like Doctor Strange. If you’ve read the standalone DS comics you know just how weird and nonsensical those visuals can be. Up is down, white is black and in is out. They get it right. There isn’t an overwhelming amount of crazy, but enough that you feel like the world is rife with magic and you’re finally getting to see it first hand.
Not only are the effects magical, but the location selection and set design are spot on. I really felt like I was looking at intelligently interpreted moments from the books. Nothing feels overdone despite the fantastical nature that consumes the film’s second and third acts. And more credit here to the cast who perform these acts in front of green screens or during motion capture sessions completely selling the moments long before the visuals are added.
There are no moments that don’t work. There are no giant plot holes to fall through. There are no stumbles by actors that suspend your suspension of disbelief. While it may drag a bit at times and feel a bit predicable, Doctor Strange was truly a wonderfully fun and engaging movie. But was it a Marvel movie?
This is where I struggled. It looked exactly like what Doctor Strange should look like. It sounded like it, it felt like it and it even smelled like it. I think. There were the obligatory nods to other MCU events and characters, but no real inclusion of anything that’s happened in the other thirty-seven-ish films.
In the early days, when Iron Man, Captain America and Thor were kicking things off, I expected there to be a more standalone feel. I expected each film to be on its own until a common backdrop had been fully established. Doctor Strange feels like these other initial offerings in that it could be totally on its own having nothing to do with the greater Marvel tapestry. I think that’s an issue. We’re not in the building phase anymore.
Ant-Man is an example of a recent origin film that feels completely immersed in an already existing universe. When he shows up in Civil War, it makes perfect sense. I worry that when Strange is added to other hero’s films it may seem a bit forced. Good writing and a good story totally solves that problem, but I am just a tad concerned.
If you like action and amazing effects layered with strong acting and great set design, WATCH THIS MOVIE! What the creators bring to the table is worth both your time and money.
If you’re looking for an epic next chapter in the Marvel saga, you should still WATCH THIS MOVIE! While there’s an issue or two, nothing about how the film may or may not fit into the bigger picture hurts its entertainment value. It’s fun, thoughtful and a pretty good time from start to finish.
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