Many of you know my thoughts on Marvel—and most superhero—movies in general. They’re becoming a tired, recycled genre with very few breaths of fresh air in between stale, static releases that never deal in absolutes and only deal in what can protect the name and brand from suffering so much as a single character death.
So now we come to Doctor Strange, which enlists nerdy fandom lord Benedict Cumberbatch as the latest big-name actor into the Marvel franchise. As a standalone film, Doctor Strange is pretty damn good, except for all of the backstory one needs to get caught up on to understand the vast mythology of the film’s universe.
However, as good as it is on its own, as a part of the overarching Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU), it adds almost as much backstory and name-dropping as the rest of the films combined, ultimately making it for one big headache when looked at in the scope of the entire fourteen(!!!) film universe.
Struggling to break free of his Sherlockian roots, Cumberbatch does a superb job at simply acquiring a wonky American accent—though the weirdness is probably because we’ve seldom heard him without his signature British one. A brilliant doctor, if only darkened by his penchant for self-acclaim and prosperity, Strange winds up in a car accident of his own doing with the added consequences of losing both of his hands to severe trauma, thus making the once formidable surgeon a thing of pity.
He is as cocky as Sherlock, if only a little more human as his character progresses from overly-confident, but he is significantly more human and actually gives a shit about other people than himself…after a lot of pain and misery of course.
So here we are fourteen movies in and we still have “origin” stories. The good thing is, like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, Doctor Strange is actually fun and different. There are magical, bizarre objects like the Cloak of Levitation that essentially become characters themselves, and some completely mind-bending scenes entirely inspired by Inception.
Though it gets bogged down in its mythology and exposition, Doctor Strange has significantly better writing than most other Marvel films. There’s a certain amount of silliness that lets it breathe free from the rest of the universe as it takes cutesy shot after cutesy shot at the rest of the MCU.
On top of Cumberbatch, newcomers in Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, and Mads Mikkelsen come together to make for a serious acting force. Swinton, who faced much backlash for being cast as The Ancient One, excels with her cryptic mentorship. She knows everything but reveals so little, which at times proves annoying since all we want to do is get a grasp on what the actual fuck is going on in this universe full of multiple dimensions and magical rituals and devices that can do things such as alter time.
Yet as most Marvel movies have proven, the enemy is never quite as formidable as one would hope and the wealth of information we are asked to learn is far too overwhelming when you add it to what we’re already supposed to know in a universe that has dozens of characters who are all interconnected. But Doctor Strange still feels fresh and fun, and that’s really all I ask for anymore with Marvel movies. It might not be as excellent as something like Guardians of the Galaxy, but its still enough to cast a spell on you if only for a couple hours.