‘Doctor Strange’ and the Origin Story Blues

As many jokes as this movie’s got, the only ones that land come from the conscious cape. Images courtesy Walt Disney Motion Picture Studios.

At long last, the wait is over. After a grueling campaign stretching more than a year back, it’s finally time for the most talked-about, hotly anticipated event of 2016.

I’m talking, of course, about the year’s sixth guaranteed smash-hit comic book movie, Doctor Strange.

The film tells the tale of Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who starts the movie as a top global neurosurgeon. However, while texting and driving on the world’s most dangerous road, Strange careens off the edge of a cliff, shattering his hands and leaving him unable to return to surgery. Strange bankrupts himself trying to cure the nerve damage, and spends his last pennies going to Nepal chasing a miracle that had cured a former patient’s (Benjamin Bratt) severed spinal column. There, he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who introduces him to magic.

There were a couple of major problems I already had with Doctor Strange going in, and they defined my experience with it. I absolutely despise the visual effects in this movie. They look intriguing out of the corner of your eye, but disintegrate into clever Photoshop work when any degree of attention is paid to them. At some points, they’re literally just opening and closing windows in the background to make it look like there’s more going on than there is. It’s way too easy to rattle off a list of movies this one is aping — the big one, obviously, being Inception. 

The result is a production design that’s massive in scale but minuscule in creativity, and that’s a summary of the entire movie.

They cast the white Tilda Swinton as the traditionally far eastern Ancient One, but then turned around and cast the black Chiwetel Ejiofor as the traditionally white Karl Mordo. Is it racist? I don’t care anymore.

When the dust settled on Suicide Squad, the main summary of the criticism was that it was a movie made by test audiences. While there isn’t a similar scandal surrounding Doctor Strange, it’s so on the nose with typical blockbuster ticks that it feels like I’ve already seen this movie a dozen times. There’s action scenes in all the usual places. It hits all the usual storytelling beats of post-Batman Begins origin stories. It’s got jokes. Marvel movies have to have jokes now, that’s what sets them apart from DC.

The other thing that leaped out at me from the first media for the movie was that they couldn’t cut a two-minute trailer together without Cumberbatch dropping his accent, something he does constantly throughout the movie. He’s a wonderful actor who would be at home in any role — as long as it’s a UK native — but that’s not why he got this part. He got the part because he’s #sohotrightnow. His primary competition for the role was Tom Hardy.

Doctor Strange is a weird character. He’s not a run-of-the-mill superhero and is more famous as a supporting character in crossovers tying the Marvel universe together. He invokes the weight of the ancient powers he wields, and it was appropriate for him to only join the MCU just before things get cosmic. Seeing him in the same positions of weakness and development that we see every other character in just doesn’t feel right. This is a character who should spring into the world fully formed, with backstory filled in later.

Maybe for the purposes of this movie that just means shifting around the timeline a bit, but then there would be at least something to point to to make this movie a little different.

For the atypical character, they should have grabbed an atypical actor, not an emerging heartthrob who can do everything you want except maintain an American accent. Hugo Weaving, woefully mis- and underused as the Red Skull in the first Captain America movie, would have been great for this, but you don’t have to go to another movie to find a more appropriate actor. Mads Mikkelsen, Bratt and even Michael Stuhlbarg all have bit parts in this movie and all would have made a much more interesting lead.

The tricky thing is, none of this makes Doctor Strange a bad movie. The only thing it really lacks is authenticity, and for the average moviegoer who only makes it out a handful of times a year, that’s no issue. It could be a problem for dedicated Marvel fans who have seen this same origin story song and dance half a dozen times now, but probably not.

This movie will probably meet your movie-going expectations, but if it does, you should probably raise your expectations.

Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, intern at the Lewisville Texan Journal and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

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2 Responses to ‘Doctor Strange’ and the Origin Story Blues

  1. Pingback: ‘Vol. 2’ not as good as first, but with new and different merits | Reel Entropy

  2. Johnie says:

    Posts like this brteihgn up my day. Thanks for taking the time.

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