WARNING: The following review contains spoilers, I’m telling you now so you don’t pretend to be outraged later.
It’s that time of the year again. It’s the day Marvel fanboys celebrate like the SuperBowl and DC Fanboys dread like their next colonoscopy. It’s time for the latest release from Marvel Studios. Everyone seems to have given Disney the title of Kings of the Universe and they aren’t wrong seeing they own the two biggest money-making machines going in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Star Wars Franchise. Disney not only owns these franchises but they have movies planned for the next 10-15 years. So by the time you’ve grown tired of Star Wars Episode XIX, the 3rd reboot of Squirrel Girl will be right around the corner.
Superhero movies are a hot button topic seeing how many people resent them citing a lack of originality and turning Hollywood into making a money-making system and not focusing on quality cinema. The problem with that stance has been the Majority of Marvel Films have been well received by critics. Guardians of the Galaxy proved that you can take a chance with an unknown property and still have a financial as well as a critical hit. So Marvel is hoping to strike lightning again with their first of many new properties to come in Phrase III in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange. I’m personally not a fan of the Doctor Strange series, from what I gather, Strange is a guy who can use magic to do whatever the writers can think of and that’s about it. But seeing how I’m clueless to just about every film franchise that comes out these days, I figured this will be no different so let’s see if Marvel can hit another home run with Doctor Strange, or at the very least hit a double.
The film begins with Stephen Strange played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Strange is a rock star neurosurgeon who only accepts the most challenging cases of surgery to satisfy his own ego as the greatest surgeon alive. Strange lives the high life in his Manhattan digs, a watch for every day of the month, and a fast car that only the elite can afford. Sadly his super awesome ride leads to his downfall as a severe car accident leaves him with permanent nerve damage in his hands putting his career and lifestyle in jeopardy. Fresh out of ideas and resources, he decides to take the advice of a man who somehow regained his ability to walk after being paralyzed. So he travels to Nepal in efforts to find the person known as ‘The Ancient One’. The Ancient One shows Strange powers and realms that he could only possibly dream of. Strange decides to learn the art of magic but realizes that he has signed up for more than he bargained for.
Now there is no way of getting around this, the biggest controversy with this film is the choice to cast Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One and not an Asian actor. Now I am not one to join in fake outrage of casting decisions like this but I agree that it would have made more sense to cast an Asian actor in this role. The only reason I can gather that this didn’t happen was Disney didn’t want to piss off its overseas audience. Critic turned Screenwriter C. Robert Cargill talked about in an interview back in April that the studio was worried about the depiction of Tibetans that could anger the Chinese government and thus get the film banned in the second-biggest film market in the world. So they opted for a white actress and decided pissing off the Social Justice Warriors in America was better than losing big money in China. Tilda Swinton is not a bad actress by any stretch but it was hard to feel that she wasn’t out of place in this role. I understand when it comes to online rage vs millions of dollars you side with the money but it seems odd they couldn’t write a way to make both sides happy, I mean we are talking Disney here, it’s not like they don’t have the resources.
Back to the movie, the film feels and looks very much like Batman Begins meets Inception. So much I was expecting Christopher Nolan to have a producing credit in the film. The film introduces ‘the Mirror Dimension’ which allows people to control reality and fight without affecting the real world around them. This is the cause for about 80% of all the trippy stuff you see in the trailers. By the way, this is not the type of movie you want to watch high especially if you are paranoid. The effects are well done and offer a new dynamic we haven’t seen before. While the Avengers fight on a physical plane, the Masters of the Mystic Arts, as they call themselves, fight their enemies on a mystical plane. Steven learns that Earth is protected from these forces by a spell formed from three buildings in New York City, London, and Hong Kong called Sanctums. Strange is not too happy to discover that he is chosen to protect these Sanctums seeing as he only wants the ability to regain his hands for his own needs. Strange in the film isn’t as big as an asshole as Tony Stark but he is just as self-absorbed.
The biggest problem with Marvel movies is the fact that their villains tend to stink. Doctor Strange is no different. Mads Mikkelsen stars as Kaecilius and really his role in the film is to set up the story for future villains after him and that has become my biggest problem with the MCU. They spend so much time building up to the next film in the series that they forget to satisfy the audience watching this film as a solo act. There have been 14 movies in the MCU and the only bad guy who has stood out is Loki. 1 out of 14 is a terrible average in baseball and not a good number for this universe either. If you don’t set stakes for the movie at hand, people are never going to believe there is ever a legitimate threat in these movies. Every film can’t simply be a preview for the next movie and this is something that Marvel needs to address. The climax of the film happens with Kaecilius uses his powers to summon Dormammu of the Dark Dimension. With the dark dimension taking over Earth, Kaecilius can live forever and won’t fear death. Strange uses his powers to break the rules of magic and create an infinite time loop trapping Dormammu and forcing him to leave Earth or else be trapped for eternity. The day is saved and Strange moves into his role as the Mystical protector of earth. If you are waiting for post credit scenes, there are two that led to previews for the next Thor film and a future Doctor Strange project but if you don’t want to sit through 10 minutes of credits you aren’t missing much to leave early.
Doctor Strange is a solid footnote in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even if it looks like Inception on steroids, the film is visually the most creative film they have done in years. Benedict Cumberbatch feels like a natural in his role as Steven Strange as many fans of Doctor Who will recognize. However, the weakness in the MCU is becoming a recurring problem as the story is set up to present another one-off villain that will only be used to set up another film in the future. Films such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy has allowed us to give Marvel a pass with such weak conflicts but seeing at least 3 more introduction movies in the future for Marvel, Kevin Feige and the boys are going to have to put in more effort into a satisfying plot and conclusion if they want the dump truck of money to continue. Doctor Strange gets an A for concept and visuals, but the story is essentially a Batman Begins origin with Magic added in the mix.
OFFICIAL RATING: ***
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