Let me just start off by saying unlike all the other heroes who’ve gotten their own films in the MCU, I knew very little about Doctor Strange before going into it. All I knew was that he was way more mythical than the other characters we’ve seen so far and that he was kind of an asshole, and after seeing the film, I really only came out only gathering one of those things.
It’s clear that Marvel is shepherding Doctor Strange to become the next “Iron Man”, given they have similar character traits – or at least that’s what they’d want you to think. In fact, I felt like the film told us he was an asshole more than it actually showed us that. Don’t get me wrong, we see Strange be an ass to Rachel McAdams (in the most useless supporting role I’ve seen in quite some time, by the way), but that’s pretty much it the extent of it. He’s sort of an asshole before, out of the blue, he isn’t anymore.
When we do see Strange’s nasty ego come out, Benedict Cumberbatch nails it. But unlike what Jon Faverau did with the first Iron Man film and take his time to show us Tony progress from being a “bad” person into being a hero, Scott Derrickson is much more fixated on speeding by these small nuances in favor of the trippy action sequences. By trying to “wow” us instead of focusing on the story, we end up getting a (basic) origin story that doesn’t quite have a second act to show this transition in his character, as well as actually showing him train for these kick-ass fights. In fact, many times throughout it feels like learning about the main character was the least important aspect of the film.
But, the film’s main selling point were the insane visuals – the only thing that saved Marvel’s ass when it came to marketing this film. The good news for Derrickson is that visuals are by far the best that we’ve ever seen in any MCU movie and I love how inventive the action scenes turned out to be, especially with the whole idea of “opening your mind”. This ultimately allowed us as audiences members to not be sure how it all was going to turn out, which was fun in the moment. However, the two issues with that are A.) It’s a Marvel movie, so in the end it can only turn out a few different ways and B.) this lack of “rules” leaves much of the world building unexplained or confusing, forcing viewers just to accept it and move on.
In fact, a lot of the film is just accepting the plot progression and moving on from it, which, as someone who isn’t quite familiar with the character, was quite odd. I always felt like I was on the outside looking in with this film, as if it were “too nerdy” for me to fully understand. Tilda Swinton is a bald, ancient wizard who loves folding buildings on top of each other, a cape has a mind of it’s own and murders a man, and spells are used to access dark universes and to stop/reverse time. It’s all crazy nonsense that never really has any logic (or depth) behind it, but man, if it doesn’t look cool as shit on the big screen. And yet after all these strange elements added in (pun intended), it still felt so familiar in the end, from the generic villain to the goofy resolution to a world-threatening problem.
Doctor Strange is a surface-level blockbuster that many will accept and probably love because, visually, it’s fantastic and it’s a ton of fun. That being said, the film is rushed, void of any depth and lacks any set of rules or guidelines for the character or world it sets itself in, something I fear Marvel will have to work around when Strange is introduced to other characters in this cinematic universe (which seems to be sooner than later). It’s undeniably entertaining, but as an introduction to the character, it really could have been better.
(-1/2 star for that horrendous Beyonce gag)