I gotta be honest here… i’m getting a little burned out on Marvel movies. Not so much comic book movies in general (despite my less than glowing reviews of BvS & Suicide Squad), but the Marvel Cinematic Universe specifically. They’ve done a damn fine job so far creating inter-connecting, but independent stories featuring rich characters, storylines and histories from the extensive Marvel Comics universe, BUT…
It’s becoming harder and harder to ignore, as the movie-going audience, the big old gaping hole in that continuity. Which is this: how is every MCU film not an Avengers movie? They’re trying here and there. Thor and the Hulk were not in Captain America: Civil War for pretty good reasons, but where was the gang during the Winter Soldier? Where was Captain America when killer elves were wreaking havoc in London in Thor: Dark World? You could go on and on. Even the trailer for the new Spider-man looks like it has been marketed as Spider-man: Ironman’s Protege. Not necessarily a bad thing, again, up until now, but totally unsustainable. By the time Infinity Wars rolls around, everyone but Howard the Duck, Dazzler & Squirrel Girl are going to be out there jockeying for screen time. It’ll be too much.
I could be wrong about Howard the Duck. He might show up too, to kick Thanos in the shins or something. Maybe accost him with harsh language.
Anyway, I’m gonna let that thread go… I already discussed it at some length in my Captain America: Civil War review. No need to flog that dead horse here.
That being said, Doctor Strange does a pretty good job of side-stepping this continuity quagmire by keeping the primary action beats in parallel universes. And in that endeavor brings to the MCU the most impressive visuals we’ve seen to date. DS falls into the same basic tropes most, if not all, the Marvel films do… unworthy protagonist becomes superhero and then earns it after-the-fact. Ironman, Spider-man, Ant-man, Guardians of the Galaxy, even Captain America and Thor to a certain extent. Doctor Strange is no different, but it looks so goddamn cool, you forgive it. The introduction of magic into the MCU is a major step is de-grounding the films from reality. Which I would argue is a good thing. Grounding X-Men is what kept X-Men from being truly great films. There was nothing grounded about Donner’s Superman and that still continues to hold a special place in all comic book film-loving nerds’ hearts. Because they said, fuck it. And made a comic book movie starring Superman. It wasn’t gritty and the costume remained silly and ridiculous. And it worked.
Doctor Strange’s visual storytelling is definitely its strongpoint. You probably saw in the trailers, the Inception-like cityscapes folding in on themselves, only now with characters running across them, interacting, fighting. I saw it in 3D and it looks nothing short of stunning. Add to that several triumphs of less-awesome visual storytelling, like a magical cape with a mind of its own, magical spells that manifest themselves as CG visual treats, and one of the highlights of the film – a scene where doctor Jonathan Strange must assist a colleague performing surgery on an injured and dying Doctor Strange, from the astral plane. It’s a visually inventive scene and entertaining as hell. I almost forgot Jonathan Strange’s introduction to the multiverse near the beginning of the film. A visual feast most would compare to the end of 2001: a Space Odyssey… and yet comparing these two scenes in DS and 2001 is like comparing Jurassic Park to the Dinosaurs TV show. Sorry, Mr. Kubrick, I love your films but FX have come along way since 1968. And before any purists get all on my nuts about it, yes the end of 2001 looks great. But it looks like the greatest Mac OS screensaver ever put to film, okay?
A note about Benedict Cumberbatch… I think there was maybe one film in 2016 he wasn’t in, but I cannot for the life of me think of what that may have been. He’s basically in everything. And for good reason. His range and watchability are pretty damn unparalleled. For someone with such an odd and distinctive face, he really disappears into his roles.
Doctor Strange toes some storytelling and character cliches, but the visual storytelling and shear scope of the film help elevator it from 3rd rate dreck like Suicide Squad, but also ticks off the standard comic book film boxes enough to keep it from being exceptional in any way except visually. I smiled through the whole thing. In a couple years I probably won’t remember much at all. It reminded me more of Ant-man than any other Marvel film actually. I enjoyed the hell out of it in the moment, but it’s lasting impact is minimal at best.
Yes, there is a mid-credits sequence where Doctor Strange has a chat with Thor, during which they basically say, “let’s become Goose and Maverick, but like… without either of us dying is a fiery crash.” We’ll see how that goes, or even if it goes. So far, advance word on Thor: Ragnorak has not mentioned Doctor Strange at all.
If you’re a diehard Marvel fan who eagerly awaits each film at every Phase, continuity issues be damned, Doctor Strange should satisfy and excite on a level somewhere between Iron Man 3 and Ant-man. Everyone else, I would say see it in 3D at the nearest state-of-the-art theater and you probably won’t leave feeling ripped off. I wish the same could be said for Passengers. Holy shit, foreshadow much?
p.s. I almost forgot the mention the end of Doctor Strange. It’s a clever bit of plotting. How does the hero, even a magic-wielding wizard of a hero defeat a character who is, essentially, an incorporeal god? The answer to that is simple within the context of the film and makes for a great visual gag to cap off the film. The only problem with it is that it doesn’t hold up under further scrutiny. I don’t want to give it away, but I will use a metaphor to describe it. The ending is like the hero took the villain in a headlock and made him promise to stop being a dick before he’ll let him go. But you know, on a much grander scale.
p.p.s. Yes, i know… that was a simile, not a metaphor. Shut up before I put you in a headlock.