Movie: Doctor Strange
Director: Scott Derrickson
Actors: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton and others.
Story: It’s about a doctor called Stephen Strange who has to use special powers to save the Universe and it’s set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s all I think I’m allowed to divulge here, given the, you know, no spoilers thing.
Good news: Doctor Strange is visually stunning, a true cinematic spectacle. Bad news: There’s very little else to hold on to in it, apart from that.
I’ll admit it first: I’m not the best person to review superhero movies. I’m simply not invested enough. I don’t read comics, I don’t understand the MCU and pretty much the only reason I watched the movie can be summed up in two words: predictably, Benedict Cumberbatch. I wanted to see the intellectualism I expected him to bring to the role. I wanted to see how strong of an impact he made on me, as a non-follower of the Universe, and whether he could get me to invest in the film in spite of that qualification.
Short answer: he didn’t.
Don’t worry, there’s nothing really lacking in the film. As far as superhero films from a non-fan perspective goes, it was fun. There was a lot of action (obviously), some romance, occasional bits of humour I wasn’t expecting and a bit of a teacher-disciple friendship thing.
No, there are no boxes that haven’t been ticked as far as the genre is concerned.
It’s just that, somehow, it wasn’t enough.
There wasn’t enough of anything in the film.
The characters weren’t enough. The action wasn’t enough. The romance wasn’t enough. The climax wasn’t enough (heh).
The Avengers 1, with its enormous ensemble cast, did a better job of establishing its characters believably, especially the new ones like Bruce Banner and Hawkeye. Granted, the film had an extra twenty minutes’ run-time and a slew of roles that had already been explored. But remember that I watched it as someone with zero idea of anything (I literally had no clue who Iron Man was at that point) and I loved it. The characters didn’t feel incomplete at any point, like they did here. I felt like I was watching cardboard cut-outs and not real fleshed-out people.
The hand-to-hand combats couldn’t stand up to the stunning fight-scenes of The Winter Soldier (haven’t watched Civil War or Age of Ultron, soz). The dialogue was heavy and stilted and extremely predictable (people from neighbouring seats did, in fact, end up predicting them quite a few times). That certainly didn’t help with the making-characters-realistic part.
Rachel McAdams’s character exists as a sort of satellite for Stephen Strange, which wouldn’t be as much of a problem if he was a better anchor or if her role had more weight to it. She’s just… sort of… there. All her work could have been done by other people; she seems to exist primarily to allow the filmmakers to save on casting and condense several bits into one character. Her only function in the plot ties her to Strange, and is completely devoid of any history of its own, unlike literally every other significant character in the film. There is some sort of history or personality indicated about each of the latter that is completely independent of Strange, and I wish she hadn’t been denied that.
The intensity of a certain confrontation occurring half-way through the movie should have been matched in the climax scene. Since it wasn’t, we’re left with a strange taste in our mouths, wanting more and not in a good way. The true villain is built up throughout the film and then when the meeting does come, it’s… boring. That’s saying something, given the scale of what’s happening here.
The movie also suffered from a strange case of duplication.
(Ha. Get it. See what I did there. See.
Ok I’ll stop now.)
I’m not sure if it’s comic blasphemy to say this, but in many ways, Strange’s characterization reminded me strongly of Tony Stark. You know, the whole narcissistic genius with expensive cars, personal charm and girlfriends with complicated histories thing does seem to be in common.
And then Benedict’s initial portrayal of Strange reminded me of literally every single significant character he’s played recently: Turing, Sherlock, Khan, Assange. There’s something about him- mannerisms, perhaps?– that seems to stick and makes it impossible to overlook the actor and find the character. And with that comes the danger of type-casting. Also, as a friend put it, “That accent was so extra.”
The teacher-student relationship (both of them) unintentionally reminded me of Kung Fu Panda, which was a tiny bit hilarious. I even felt like I’d seen the climax before– try reading the first book of the Bartimaeus trilogy and tell me it doesn’t feel familar.
The people I did love were Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen.
They were, to put it shortly, badass. There was something so compelling about both that I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen when they were present. Their intensity alone made the whole film worth it and weighed out all the other issues.
The humour was pretty cool.
To be honest, I don’t associate comedy with Benedict (or Mr. Cumberbatch?), but maybe that’s a mistake. Some of the funniest scenes were his interactions with Benedict Wong’s character (who is called Wong. Cheers. How hard would it have been to think of a name for the guy? Unless there’s a character called Wong in the comics. Who knows.) Genuinely enjoyed the bantz they had. (Am I allowed to use British terms or is that a result of my colonial hangover?)
But the visuals, man. That’s where this film’s really at.
The visual effects were out of this world. Literally. “Inception without the brain-ache” is how I described them after stepping out of the theatre.“Do NOT watch this film during an LSD trip” is how my (other) friend referred to them soon after.
It was mesmerizing and fun and insane and totally worth the headache I risked with the 3-D glasses. The last time I saw a film this incredible in 3-D was Gravity. Kaecilius (Mads’s super-villain character) and his fam bam tripped around on multiple dimensions like it was nothing and it was SO COOL. Ultimately, the visual effects were what left the strongest impact on me during the film. They alone made the film worth watching.
Doctor Strange is a fun film to watch with friends or family. You’ll enjoy it while its happening, because the special effects are honestly mind-blowing and also because it’s engaging enough for that. Afterwards, however, you might just be left feeling incomplete and empty, like that hollow feeling you get once you’ve left an exam hall and are convinced you missed out on some important points in an answer.
Or who knows? That part might just be me.
PRO TIP: Do NOT miss out the mid-credit and end-credit scenes, those who were planning on skipping them. Even I cheered when the former came on.
NO COPYRIGHT VIOLATION IS INTENDED IN THE WRITING OF THIS POST. ALL IMAGES/VIDEOS BELONG TO THEIR RIGHTFUL OWNERS AND NOT ME.
(In other words please don’t sue me)
Edit: Re: the obvious orientalism of the film, the very premise of both the film and the comic is so obviously orientalist that it seems redundant to comment on that. Eh. But why is it that only white people find Zen in the subcontinent and we don’t? And how/why does an ancient group FOUNDED in Asia BASED on Asian magic have so few Asians in it?? Like????????????
Did you agree with the review? Watch the film and let me know! Share this review if you liked it or even if you didn’t, especially if you didn’t. Then you can just go and yell at me on your “Shared Post” status.
See you soon on Spiktinot!