Written By: Mike Agostinelli
Marvel Studios has recently become stuck in a bit of a rut.
You might balk at this statement, since nearly all of their films since the original Iron Man have made a killing at the box office and have been met with substantial critical acclaim. But lately, there has been an undeniable feeling of “been there, done that.” The Marvel formula is tried and true: light, fluffy, punchy entertainment. Delivered with nothing more than your personal enjoyment in mind. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with this. But after being fed so much sugary goodness, one longs for something daring. Something fresh. Something…Strange.
Man, I’m clever as hell.
Doctor Strange fits comfortably within the Marvel mold, no doubt. It ticks all of the same boxes mentioned above. But what separates it from the long list of others is its visual splendor; it’s vested interest in providing us with a sense of variety. The action scenes provide a welcome dose of originality, with buildings twisting and folding under the waving arms of skilled sorcerers. Yes, essentially wizards are now a thing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And they end up being way cooler than any of the heroes.
The first half of the movie introduces us to this fresh world of the “mystic arts”. With it comes many rules, and many dimensions. Everything is laid out quite clearly and with enough flair that the important stuff pops. But it is enough of an info dump to give you occasional moments of thoughtful pondering when you really should just be listening to the dialogue. Once you get past that, the last hour or so of the film speeds along as we barrel from one visual action feast to another. Lots of it is particularly clever, giving things a psuedo-Inception vibe mixed with a bit of Looper and Edge Of Tomorrow. Seems like an odd mix, doesn’t it? But its so odd that it works.
Alas, there are a few of the standard Marvel shortcomings present. The female companion, played here by Rachel McAdams, ends up being another thankless sidekick role which generally amounts to nothing of note. The fact that they got McAdams for something so small astounds me. Maybe she just wanted to play doctor for a few days on a hospital set, and have one emotional apartment scene. I feel like she wrapped her work in about a weeks time. The villain also ends up being inconsequential, sort of a means to an end, the end in this case being someone for the heroes to punch.
The rest of the casting is pitch perfect. Cumberbatch is a fantastic Doctor Strange, not only being a physical dead ringer for the part but also bringing his elite acting chops to bear and elevating the material. Tilda Swinton also has an interesting turn as The Ancient One, shaving her head bald and becoming a certified badass. One scene towards the end with Strange also manages to be quite profound, and is bound to stick with you for awhile after the credits roll.
Finally, the musical score by Michael Giacchino is awesome. He almost always delivers, but here he delivers in spades. The various themes are very hummable, chief among them being the Doctor Strange theme. He brings a sense of melodic wonder that is strangely absent from most Marvel musical scores. You’d think with heroes like these, they would all have discernible themes for each of their films. But Marvel has continuously bungled this, switching up themes from film to film and having zero sense of thematic cohesion. Hopefully with this score, things are on an upswing
I would say this is one of those movies where your money will end up being well spent at the box office, regardless of how high your local theaters price tabs have become. You generally know what you’re getting when you sit down to watch a Marvel movie, but with this one you get the added pleasant surprise of receiving a bit extra bang for your buck. Now I just hope we get Doctor Strange 2 before they throw him into all of this Avengers nonsense and stifle him of his creativity.
I give Doctor Strange an 8 out of 10.
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