I said it in my review of Captain America: Civil War earlier this year: How long can Marvel keep this up? How long will it conjure stellar scripts, vivid visuals and diverse character dissertations? Will its streak ever end?
It was bound to happen eventually. The greats of every pursuit have a bad performance from time to time in their quest for endless perfection. Unilateral consistency to that level is hard to duplicate but the greats always find a way. They continue to leave us in disbelief because there’s a natural tendency to discredit them and expect the opposite. “Surely it can’t be done again,” we say, yet how gratifying it is to be proven wrong, is it not? Disbelief is sometimes more than belief. Sometimes, we welcome what we can’t process and revel in the emotion of what we deem otherworldly. Eventually, the cycle comes back around and the greats remind us they’re human, which at first breaks the illusion but also redeems them, making their achievements all the more impressive.
Doctor Strange is the cycle coming back around and reminding us Marvel is manned by humans just like ourselves. They are not beings from a galaxy far, far away, or an interstellar species. They are just like you and I, and like humans do, they screw up sometimes.
Director Scott Derrickson’s Marvel debut is a screw-up. It has potential like a budding juvenile but thus far has neither the focus or awareness to put those pieces together. It is ambitious but not properly equipped to get the job done.
Doctor Strange could and should have been serious. It has all the reason to be. We’re dealing with sorcery and the end of the world. Marvel has already humored the hell out of end-of-the-world scenarios. Doctor Strange was their chance to make something of a drama. Captain America: Civil War was a drama and perhaps not coincidentally, the best thing Marvel has ever made. It has yet to make a good, serious drama with one compelling character, with the exception of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Doctor Strange seemed more than ripe for that honor. Benedict Cumberbatch is certainly capable and Marvel threw Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen and Tilda Swinton into this. These are actors that can do things and yet Marvel let the opportunity slip by.
A cast this talented with material this competent should be fine but Doctor Strange ends up reminding me of The Incredible Hulk, a film without much pull, character strokes or panache to show for its efforts. Doctor Strange is a film that, surprisingly, doesn’t have a lot to say.
It should be talking about otherworldly elements that our minds can’t process, that perhaps there are things outside our world that we don’t understand or grasp. It should be portraying Doctor Strange as a character of his own making, not a rehashing of Tony Stark. It should be discussing the errors of humanity and at least attempt to make the argument that the world isn’t worth saving.
Any of these things would have been appropriate. One of these things would have been nice. We don’t get any of them, but yes, we get the obligatory “these are the rules and this is how everything works” scenes, which are then followed by things that have yet to be explained and won’t be during this run time.
Doctor Strange, from the opening credits onward, is shown to be a man gifted with extraordinary abilities and vision but the same cockiness and arrogance that always brings those people down to street level at one point or another. This is far too like Stark. Whether these are supposed to be similar characters, I don’t know. I never read the comics, but from a storytelling perspective, it’s a poor choice. You have two heroes that are practically twins and without stark (play on words) differences in their motivations, side characters or backgrounds, it’s going to be hard for an audience to enjoy it as its own experience. This film doesn’t bother to demonstrate those variations.
This lack of attention to detail and rather depthless writing leads to a mundane episode, one that, despite numerous Cumberbatch attempts, struggles for character originality. This notable elephant in the room is covered with humor that is largely off-base, leaving an emptiness of narrative flow in the theater.
A brief round of applause will be granted for a film that awes in the visual department but does not accentuate this talent enough to overcome the inherent flaws in the movie’s remaining parts.
Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.
80-89 It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Olympus Has Fallen, The Cable Guy, The Cabin in the Woods, Tears of the Sun, Edge of Tomorrow)
50-59 This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (Robin Hood, Underworld, The Do-Over, X-Men: Apocalypse, D-Tox/Eye See You)
40-49 This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Underworld: Evolution, Batman & Robin, Bloodsport, War, The Ridiculous 6)
30-39 Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Most Likely to Die, Independence Day: Resurgence, The Crow: City of Angels, Centurion, Planet of the Apes)
0-19 Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie Stoner, The Forbidden Dimensions, Cyborg, Outcast, Sabotage)
My score for Doctor Strange: 64.
2016 was a disappointing year and with Doctor Strange, Marvel couldn’t help but add to the pile. Thank God for Civil War.