Yes, once upon a time Marvel films were popular for bringing our comic book heroes to life. It began with Iron Man, Captain America and then the rest was history with the surge of Marvel’s well-crafted, tightly scripted tales of extraordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Often these people seemed to inspire the hero in all of us (Iron Man) or sometimes it was simply a reminder that we are stronger together (The Avengers). Even Ant-Man reminded us that heroes can be everyday people in all different sizes.
Doctor Strange, strangely enough, breaks from the pattern. So, who is Doctor Strange, really?
Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) portrays Dr. Stephen Strange, a top-notch neurosurgeon who performs complex surgical procedures while playing “Name that Tune”. Who only reaches for his scalpel for high paying, high profile clients worthy of his extraordinary surgical talents. His short but illustrious career comes to an end early in the film when he suffers a debilitating accident that damages his hands making it impossible for him to continue his life as, that self-centered egotistical other guy.
Searching for a way to rehabilitate his damaged hands and ultimately his life, Doctor Strange travels to Nepal intent on finding the cure for what ails him. Unfortunately, at this point Strange and the audience encounter an impenetrable wall of clichés where Shaolin Temple intersects with the Matrix, and every other trite film where a westerner has sought Enlightenment. Fortune cookie philosophy for the masses, that come off at simply silly and ostentatious.
The issue is this, Strange finds clichés but not enlightenment, without which the film simply has no soul. No depth. So what does Doctor Strange have? Good sorcerer turned evil who must be stopped, and our newbie hero as the only one who stands a chance of triumphing over the darkness. Still nothing new under the sun or any other place.
Special effects bend and contort things, flying sequences thrill us, fights are gratuitous and lengthy, but no scenes where we actually care about what happens next, let alone the hero. As often stated, special effects alone cannot make a film great. Most of the time I felt I was watching the Matrix mashed up with Inception, impatiently waiting for Neo to materialize.
Strange conjures, gets knocked down and gets back up again, gets sucked into alternate dimensions, multi-verses, without us ever really understanding why this is important to the plot or why we should even care.
I rarely fall asleep during films but Doctor Strange simply did not have the wit, charm or the spirit of previous Marvel films. Yes, I have no doubt that Stephen Strange will return, but I wonder what will be left of Marvel if and when he does.