Like a lot of people, I was sceptical of Doctor Strange. Marvel has survived cryogenically-frozen super soldiers and thunder gods, but magic is a whole other thing.
Thankfully, the movie blends seamlessly into the MCU, with just the right combination of action, comedy and origin story, but just because it has those things doesn’t make it good.
I’ve thought about this a lot, and the best way I can think to describe Doctor Strange is ‘meh’.
It’s good. I enjoyed it. I would watch it again. Short sentences. But I’m blown away by the consistently amazing reviews this film is getting.
Mads Mikkelsen is great because he’s Mads Mikkelsen, but he’s just another Marvel villain. You’d think the same company that made Thor 2, Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man would know by now that thinks-what-he’s-doing-is-right is not enough to make a good bad guy.
The first half hour of the film is slow. You expect that, but it’s also clunky. I’m re-reading this and clunky doesn’t sound like a word, but I’m running with it. It’s clunky.
The pacing in the first act is all over the place. The film takes its time getting Strange to Kathmandu – where a super old person with a keen understanding of martial arts takes him to a mountain and teaches him things about the world he never knew because Doctor Strange is basically Magic Batman Begins – but once he’s there, he becomes way too important way too quickly.
The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) takes an interest in him for no reason at all, and then he’s Doctor Strange. That’s the movie.
Swinton plays a good Ancient One, and actually the best action scenes in the movie are the ones where she and her stunt double show up, but the other characters aren’t as drawn out. It’s not that the cast is bad, but their characters are trying to go through a trilogies-worth of development in one movie.
Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is the biggest victim of this. Fans of the Doctor Strange comics know exactly who Mordo is, and how he gets there, but not only is he not close enough to Strange and the Ancient One to begin with, the conclusion he eventually reaches (stay till the end of the credits) is completely illogical.
All of the character development goes to Strange, and even if it isn’t perfect, Cumberbatch makes it so (there’s a Star Trek reference there somewhere). He’s light and funny and Marvel-ish, but also impressive when he needs to be, and some of his action shots are breathtaking.
In fact, every action shot in the movie is breathtaking. The visuals are up there with Civil War‘s, and way beyond any other MCU entry. Obviously everyone’s going to talk about Inception, but the Doctor Strange comics debuted in 1963. It’s not exactly a question of chicken or egg.
And the humour mostly lands. Strange is sarcastic and wise-cracking. It’s nothing new, but credit to Marvel – they know that works. Benedict Wong gets the biggest laughs, and there’s a particularly funny Stan Lee cameo. The rest is hit-and-miss, but even when it misses, you get a moment of light relief from all the inter-dimensional magic talk that is blowing your mind.
Doctor Strange is ultimately a frustrating movie. It has the cast, the characters and all the right intentions to tell a surprising, original story, but it rushes through it. The supporting characters are often two-dimensional, but the visuals are on a whole new dimension, and that’s what keeps the film above average.
I might sound overly negative, but I said before – you’ll have a good time. You might go twice. I also mentioned Batman Begins, one of the better DC movies. I’m not taking sides at all, but if the current DC Extended Universe made this exact movie, it would be torn apart.