Marvel Studios is now fourteen movies in and they have their formula down pat.
They start off with the main villain doing something evil that sets up the conflict of the film, introduce us to the talented, charming but flawed protagonist who hasn’t reached his full potential, throw in a few training scenes, say ‘hey’ to the love interest and then a final showdown with the villain who gets defeated by a trick the protagonist picked up halfway through the movie. Lather, rinse, repeat.
It’s hard to blame them for sticking with this formula – it’s proven that it works and brings in tons of money. So why risk changing it? Fortunately, their latest effort, Dr. Strange, while sticking to the formula, is still able to give audiences something a little different.
Directed and co-written by Scott Derrickson, Dr. Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular “Strange,” a gifted surgeon who loses his ability to operate on people after a devastating car crash. Desperate to heal himself, he flies around the world to visit “The Ancient One,” a magical teacher who introduces him to the world of spells and dark arts. Tilda Swinton plays the Ancient One, with Chiwetel Ejiofor as one of her followers and Rachel McAdams as Strange’s love interest, “Christine.”
Dr. Strange may be the best movie Marvel has released, or at least the most refreshing one in a while. The first few scenes have the unenviable task of getting all the exposition out of the way so that the rest of the film can focus on the craziness that follows. Cumberbatch and McAdams are charming and beautiful people, so at the very least there’s something to look at as you wade your way through the beginning.
Once the magic starts up though, its time to get ready for a ride. The crazy, hallucinatory visuals are something to behold and everything clicks once the action gets going. The movie ends up feeling less like an average superhero flick and more like an Inception-style mind-bending blockbuster.
The writing is really the only weak point – having to write within the established framework of the other Marvel movies is tough, making the film predictable, and the character of Strange himself is pretty inconsistent. At times he’s a poor man’s “Tony Stark,” other times he seems like he’s drawing from his Sherlock character, and, in a couple scenes in the beginning, it looks and sounds as if he’s doing a Hugh Laurie impression from House.
Fortunately, there are clever jokes throughout that seem to wink at the audience, saying “We know all of this is silly, but just stay with us.” It constantly provides a nice boost whenever the film starts to get stale. I wasn’t particularly bothered by the lack of creative dialogue, though, because the action scenes and visuals are just that good. The movie remains entertaining at every turn.
Dr. Strange is a Marvel movie through and through, which is both good and bad. The film is dragged down slightly by the formula but it’s original enough to shed its predictability, and the visuals and weirdness of Strange provide a much-needed boost to Marvel Cinematic Universe.