Doctor Strange (2016) by Scott Derrickson
Review by Zach Dennis
It’s not me, it’s you.
I think we should see other people, Marvel. We can stay amicable, and hell, maybe even hang out from time to time. But at this point, I need more substance in my life and you aren’t giving it to me.
I deserve more in my life, Marvel.
While it would be easy to cut-and-paste a previous review for a Marvel Studios movie in this space — that wouldn’t contain the same flair. Not that the latest film from the studio has much to begin with.
Doctor Strange treats many of the previously seen symptoms of the studio’s movies with an unmatched energy, but it also comes up just as hollow. The visuals are enticing, the characters are entertaining, but in the end, it never adds up to much and my experience flat-lined on the operating table.
In the vein of Marvel poster boy Tony Stark is this film’s hero, Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a wise-cracking and arrogant neurosurgeon who picks when and where the sun rises and sets — or at least in his mind. It isn’t until he suffers massive injuries in a near-fatal car crash that he has some realizations about his thin view towards the world and seeks out some sort of answers from the Far East after Western medicine is unable to quench his desires.
There he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), an all-powerful mystic who is based out of a temple in Nepal and has been known to cure a weary narcissist in the past. With the help of Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Strange works with the Ancient One to hone into the mystic arts and use them to cure his injuries.
But the power that follows becomes even more enticing to Strange and he looks to discover more about its capabilities. All of this occurs while Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson) comes after the temple in search of the greatest power of them all — and the appreciation of some omnificent deity.
Cumberbatch seemed destined for a Marvel role yet I’m not certain this was the perfect one for him. He plays Strange as an arrogant playboy — feeding off the intellectual prowess that he established with his version of Sherlock Holmes.
He doesn’t exactly command the scene like Robert Downey Jr. did in Iron Man, but you can tell the studio wants you to think he can. The same can be said about the whole movie, which dresses itself like that opening Marvel act but lacks the same authoritative touch. The defining gift of Iron Man was its ability to examine a narcissistic character with both disdain and compassion while exploring the psyche that drives him to act the way he does.
It may have helped that Iron Man felt like something new in 2008 while in 2016, Marvel is more of the norm on the blockbuster scene. Doctor Strange features all of the same qualities of that film, and the ones that followed, and that may be its biggest detriment. They don’t seem like stories anymore, but slides in an endless album of costumes and capes.
That shouldn’t mean the end of superhero movies altogether because I understand their value. They have the ability to be our myths, our gods and our saviors. Isn’t that what The Avengers told us when Iron Man shot up into the sky and ended the threat to New York City nine years after September 11th?
So why now for Doctor Strange? What makes it so vital to today’s front?
The visuals are nice. Director Scott Derrickson injects a kaleidoscope explosion into the overall aesthetic that allows action sequences to feel much more stylized than previous Marvel entries, but never really add up to much in the end. They twist and twirl and dazzle, but by the end, I ask “okay, but why?”
Maybe that’s the answer to why this character works so much today. Marvel is our modern magician. We enter the auditorium and watch as the person on stage dazzles us with mystifying act after act, keeping us out of the realm of reality for a few hours and entertaining us along the way. But that doesn’t lead to anything once the performance is over. We don’t want to explore that feeling any deeper.
It served its purpose.
I don’t want to completely break up with Marvel, but I’m definitely not holding its hand any longer. It served its purpose and doesn’t seem keen to challenge the system. We could analyze it and tear it apart, but what’s the point anymore.
It is what it is. So let’s move on.