Do you think there won’t be consequences to this? The bill comes due. Always.
Doctor Strange marks a turning point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This movie reveals the way the universe will ultimately end, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Perhaps not with a string of explosively disastrous movies, but only an avalanche of dull & mediocre ones. Doctor Strange does a fair amount of things right; the casting is dead-on target, for instance. People will spend a lot of time bashing Benedict Cumberbatch’s American accent probably; don’t listen, it’s fine. Likewise, the whitewashing dilemma regarding casting Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One is one best left on the table; there are plenty of other examples to call out and Swinton is so perfect that it’s hard to fault the casting. And, God bless him, there’s Benjamin Bratt in a very small supporting role, doing some really great, naturalistic work. Some of the visuals are fun. I like the way the magic in this universe isn’t invisible and the way it’s depicted as sparking arcs of orange fire, turning the visuals into a kind of welder’s dream. And there is one genuinely breathtaking special effects sequence as The Ancient One sends Strange blasting through various dimensions of reality; it’s genuinely something like a gorgeous, extrapolation on 2001. It’s genuinely awe-inspiring and gorgeous.
But the film’s flaws are myriad, much like the seemingly endless universes, dimensions, relics & rules that send this movie spiraling into nonsense. The script is pedestrian at best (love you, Courtney!) as it marches through the typical origin story beats without bringing anything new. But then once the story really kicks off, things get far below that. The movie is peppered with too many dimensions; there’s the mirror dimension, the astral plane, the dark dimension & more, each with their own different set of rules. If you can keep straight where the characters are at any given time, you’re better than me and I’m damn sure the movie cheats a lot. There’s a bit where a character dies while, near as I can tell, in the Mirror Dimension, but what happens there isn’t supposed to effect the real world, so why does that character die in the real world? Or is it possible that the last forty-five minutes of the movie ALL take place in the Mirror Dimension? When did we leave it? And the powers Strange develops at the end of the movie literally come right out of the air. And, yes, there’s a fight that takes place across two different planes (Note: planes are, I think, different from dimensions. Maybe?) and it’s just a chaotic mess. And so desperate is the film to triple down on Inception that things past all reason start happening. Why do people who can harness powerful multi-dimensional powers spend so much time CHASING EACH OTHER ON FOOT? Why is Kaecilius so infatuated with making vast cityscapes fold into each other like manic pop-up books? He’s supposedly chasing Strange to stop him at one point, but how does manipulating miles & miles & miles of city terrain supposed to help with that? Strange is in sight, but he’s busily dicking around with skyscrapers twenty miles away. For what purpose? And then we’re supposed to care about/be afraid of some fool named Dormammmu when we know nothing about him? Even when the film has decent ideas, it messes them up. There’s a lengthy sequence where the heroes and villains fight while time rolls backwards around them. It’s a great idea; all of these super-hero movies end with heroes and villains fighting as they destroy a city – this time, they’re fighting as a city is literally reassembled around them. There are a few moments that tell off what the sequence could have been; there’s a great gag with an aquarium, for instance. But the special effects are messy and chaotic to the degree that it’s hard to even tell what’s happening. And I respect that the film attempts to find a different way of beating the main villain than just having another big punch-out, but it’s unfortunately done by cribbing from Groundhog Day, which doesn’t exactly land.
It’s a disappointing movie in a lot of ways, but most of all perhaps in what it did, not what it didn’t. It introduced a new Marvel character that I frankly just don’t want to see again. I think it’s possible that the MCU is reaching maximum volume and/or density. As this film ended, I hoped to myself that this would be a one-off; I don’t need to see more about this character, I thought. Well, not only will there be a sequel, but he’ll also be showing up in Ragnarok, a movie I’ve been really looking forward to. My first thought on getting that little detail dropped on me was that I hoped he didn’t screw up the movie. In a Cinematic Universe predicated on ever-expanding borders and constantly growing casts, we may have hit a wall. This movie wants to expand the MCU into new, magical territory by introducing new, powerful characters; but all I can see is the franchise’s death. Isn’t that strange? 2 stars.
tl;dr – mostly uninteresting film whiffs on creating great characters by focusing on often lackluster special effects; the MCU’s hit a wall; more like this and you can count me out. 2 stars.