Doctor Strange (2016)
Directed by Scott Derrickson
If Marvel Entertainment hasn’t begun branding superhero cookie cutters for the holiday season, they should—for what other movie studio would cookie cutters be more fitting? “Doctor Strange” has been hailed by early viewers as a step forward for Marvel, a branch out. But really, it’s just the same type of formulaic origin story we’ve been fed for nearly a decade now.
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the Tony Stark of neurosurgery—arrogant to a fault, spotty history with women, richer than anyone has a right to be, bad facial hair. But when all of that is taken from Dr. Strange after a freak accident, he turns to a world he never thought he’d have to go to—Eastern medicine. When he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), Strange lets go of his preconceptions and opens his mind to a magic he never knew existed. But with great power comes great responsibility. Instead of going back to New York, Strange is roped into saving the world from a dark wizard (Mads Mikkelsen) with the power to affect time and dimensions. (Just speak up if you need me to slow down.) With the help of fellow Ancient One follower Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) , Strange will do his best to stop the powerful dark forces trying to give everyone eternal life (not that that sounds all bad, right?).
If you think that sounds complicated, you’re right. But not only is Dr. Strange’s antagonist hard to pin down conceptually, it doesn’t have the same urgency as a bank robbery…or an alien attack. Mads Mikkelsen is terrific, and clearly enjoys being evil, but the threat that he poses doesn’t land as heavily on the audience as many other villains have. Their fights weren’t as fun to watch, and, frankly, I fail to see how the franchise moves forward in the sequels. The threat seems contained, and I can’t imagine other threats in this mystic multidimensional world being much different than the one we saw here. More, maybe, but much different? Plus, Dr. Strange isn’t even super—he’s a wizard. Why is nobody talking about this? They’re different. Dr. Strange is closer to Harry Potter than Spider-Man. But I digress.
“Doctor Strange” does have some of Marvel’s greatest special effects, but to what end? Its mind-bending multiverse sequence is too weird for its own good. Sometimes it just seems like it’s using the effects for effects’ sake. “Doctor Strange” can certainly claim to be the newest Marvel movie—I don’t know if it has much more than that going for it.