"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" is not the only magic themed movie to come out this fall.
Expanding the already huge Marvel Cinematic Universe is Doctor Strange with his own solo movie that is not only supposed to introduce the character but also to establish magic and interdimensional travel in the lore of the MCU.
With Benedict Cumberbatch in the titular role and trippy otherworldly visuals accompanying his first adventure, expectations for Doctor Strange are accordingly once again (as for any MCU movie) quite high.
Yet with Doctor Strange himself being a very out of the ordinary superhero, here's hoping that his first solo movie also manages to be equally as special...
Marvel's "Doctor Strange" follows the story of the talented neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who, after a tragic car accident, must put ego aside and learn the secrets of a hidden world of mysticism and alternate dimensions. Based in New York City's Greenwich Village, Doctor Strange must act as an intermediary between the real world and what lies beyond, utilising a vast array of metaphysical abilities and artifacts to protect the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Being yet another chapter in Marvel's long running Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange presents itself as quite a bit of a different superhero movie. Considering that most other superheroes' powers in the MCU were mostly revolving around science giving them their strengths, Doctor Strange comes more in the same vein as Thor. With that said, Doctor Strange and his story focus primarily on magic and the ability to enter other dimensions, which even for the MCU, sounds like quite a unique new character and elements to be introduced in the MCU.
However, even despite that interesting premise, Doctor Strange sadly turns out far less interesting or refreshing than one would've hoped for. Aside from new magical elements introduced in the MCU, Doctor Strange actually feels surprisingly formulaic and even dragging at times with only its impressive visuals to help cover up its shortcomings for what it's worth.
|A visually impressive but painfully standard superhero origin story.|
Doctor Strange focusses on Doctor Stephen Strange, a very self-absorbed, rich and cocky hospital surgeon who after a severe car accident, tries to find a way to restore the movement of his hands again by visiting a reclusive "magician" in Nepal, who introdues Strange to the world of magic in order to have him help defend the world against evildoers.
Even though Doctor Strange doesn't do anything wrong in terms of telling its story, which basically revolves around the origin of the character, Doctor Strange though also doesn't really do anything new with its basic concept. Once again sharing quite a few similarities with the first Thor movie, we got a cocky protagonist who after a drastic negative event has to learn and achieve honorable values while becoming a superhero and fending off a bunch of evil bad guys while doing so. It also doesn't help that much like in Thor, protagonist Doctor Strange experiences all these big character changes only in a matter of a few days and masters all his magic powers in the same short timespan. It only goes to show that the movie's bag of new tricks to show us runs empty rather quickly.
|It's a predictable origin story that you saw many times already.|
It's especially this been-there-done-that feel, even despite all the new magic elements in the movie, that the movie's predictability makes it very often feel actually quite dragging. With multiple dialogue scenes feeling like tedious filler since the movie tries to hammer its very basic morals and themes we heard a hundred times already into the viewer's brain until it gets honestly just annoying. "Yes, we already know that there is more in life for Stephen Strange than being a successful surgeon. Yes, we already know that he evolved from an egotistical douche to a noble superhero. Yes, we know, we know, we know because you already told us all of this the last ten conversations ago."
|"Let's talk about the painstakingly obvious again."|
But with a very basic and rather stereotypical origin story and mostly tedious dialogue, what are the actual highlights in the movie?
Well, of course the magical elements in Doctor Strange are what most viewers should be excited for. Obviously inspired by Kaleidoscope- and LSD-esque trippy visuals, Doctor Strange boldly introduces many new magic powers and interdimensional travel into the MCU. While nothing too original, the magic and interdimensional travel aspects of the movie obviously of course give way to many interesting action sequences in the movie. While some of the very LSD/drug trip inspired visuals occasionally tend to overdo it to the point from where some dimensions look like an uninspired colorful mess ala 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially the Inception-style environmental changes in the newly introduced mirror dimension in the movie are THE standout moments of the entire flick.
|The Inception-esque visuals are of course the movie's big highlight.|
While definitely very impressive and nice to look at, the environmental effects in that dimension are so interesting to watch evolve, morph and change themselves constantly, that they actually do a fairly well job of hiding the fact that there's barely any actual "action" going on in the movie.
Though there of course are punches thrown and magical tools summoned to fight with, Doctor Strange's combat action scenes were never really expected to be very "physically" fought than rather "by trickery and intelligence" which most of the movie actually follows up on. With that said, again, while there are some fights in the movie, don't expect any fights to be nearly at the same level of physical intensity as for example any of the Captain America movies. Most of the time, this means that Doctor Strange rather uses his intelligence or magic (and oftentimes just dumb luck) to overcome his foes rather than brute force. Admittedly this suits the character but also, again, this only further goes to show that the highlights of the movie are very special effects driven. Even going so far that actually most foes in the movie get killed by the environmental effects of the mirror dimension rather than the actual protagonists themselves.
Also, while there actually are also quite some rules established and explained in the movie (which also try to explain why the magical conflicts haven't been noticed by the Avengers up to this point), the movie occasionally stumbles upon those rules itself and creates some plot holes here and there that actually might confuse some viewers at certain moments in the film.
|"Did I kill that guy? Oh, no. It was the constantly morphing buildings again."|
Regarding the protagonist characters themselves, much like the very predictable origin story of the movie, the characters are also comparably predictable and mostly represent already known Marvel character stereotypes if you will.
While some characters like Strange's sidekick Mordo do show some ideals that are definitely worth exploring in more detail, the movie itself mostly avoids getting into too much depth with its characters. Putting most of its focus on Strange himself and his character development that you can see coming from milles away, other sidecharacters in the movie feel a bit underdeveloped and mostly quite shallow.
What definitely helps though is that Marvel once again manages to nevertheless breathe quite some charisma into its protagonists. With the occasional comedic relief or funny scene thrown in, Doctor Strange sure stylistically does fit in with the other MCU movies. Most importantly, the casting choice of Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange is a very good one. Both being able to act charming as well as absolutely unlikable in certain necessary parts, he makes the character development of Strange actually work out quite well and makes for a good hero to root for (even despite the story's predictabilty issues).
|Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange is a great spot-on casting choice.|
What doesn't work nearly as well though are the antagonists in Doctor Strange.
Marvel's biggest weakness of never being able to write convincing and memorable antagonist characters sadly continues in Doctor Strange and is easily the movie's biggest flaw.
With powerhouse actor Mads Mikkelsen in the role of Kaecilius, a serving member and "squad leader" (?) of a far bigger evil called Dormammu, the movie sure enough did not give Mikkelsen anything worth of his talent to work with. Producer Kevin Feige already explained that Mikkelsen's Kaecilius was written to introduce bigger antagonists for the MCU, and it sure as hell shows. Not only does Kaecilius actually barely say anything in the entire movie, but with him being presented as the main antagonist in the movie on all posters, he actually only has the task in the movie to look threatening and throw some punches and his henchmen at Doctor Strange - that's it. Not much better fares the bigger evil that Kaecilius is serving, called Dormammu - a big trippy looking cloudface in the same vein as Green Lantern's Parallax or Fantastic Four's Galactus -which is NOT a good sign. Resultingly, Dormammu is also quite underwhelming and looks more like something you would fight in a videogame. Not helping is also the fact that the actual showdown between him and Doctor Strange has a twist that certainly thinks it's smarter than it actually is and leaves you thinking "wait...that's it? that's how he beats him? Oh...okay. I guess?"
|Doctor Strange was obviously just a paycheck movie for Mads Mikkelsen.|
Overall, Marvel has to be given credit for once again approaching a more interesting superhero character with his own movie with Doctor Strange. With very impressive trippy visuals of other dimensions and a very great choice of Benedict Cumberbatch in the titular role, the movie had a lot of promising things going for it.
Unfortunately though, Doctor Strange as a whole turns out to be one of the weakest MCU movies to date next to Thor: The Dark World.
Aside from a charismatic leads and imaginative visual effects, the movie has very little else to offer. Instead viewers are treated with a very stereotypical and predictable superhero origin story, many dragging dialogue scenes with themes that are beaten to death, thinly written sidecharacters, and antagonists that are just instantly forgettable.
Especially given the fact that Doctor Strange's newly introduced interdimensional travel and magic powers make it very exciting to see how it all will fit in with future MCU movies, it's sad that the way these elements are introduced in this universe are so heavily held back by such an uninspired story.
Doctor Strange is not a bad movie in the traditional sense of the word, but in comparison to the high standard that we've come to expect from Marvel's MCU movies, not even the trippy visuals and great casting choice of Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange can help the movie overcome its underwhelming story.
Doctor Strange sure might be worth a watch when it gets released on home video or streaming services, but (again, very much like Thor: The Dark World) it's nothing that you should immediately run out to watch in theaters.
Final Verdict: 4 out of 10