Marvel is renowned for playing it safe even for the weirdest of movies. They expose their audiences to some of their stranger creations like Guardians of the Galaxy or Antman, but run a simple story featuring a love interest, a generic villain whom the audience don’t know enough about to care and many, many, many puns. This formula is again apparent in Doctor Strange. However, this movie is visually stunning but most of all, entertaining – which is very difficult to find in a superhero movie these days.
Captain America: Civil War (or Avengers 2.5), was a huge success with audiences but frankly, we didn’t get to see enough actual civil war – just some whiny characters arguing like school children in the playground. Marvel have instead opted to take us away from the characters we know and thrust us into the life of Doctor Stephen Strange, an acclaimed neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands in a horrific accident and searches for a cure. Marvel does a wonderful job in making us really dislike the main character before he undergoes his transformation into a mystic weirdo. He comes across as an obnoxious arse and you really didn’t know whether he was a hero or a villain, especially considering that this movie’s lore is virtually unknown to mainstream audiences. However, they already have done this when introducing Tony Stark in Ironman. He insults his potential love interest in a very emotional scene. She comes to comfort him and tells him “you have so much to live for.” There were gasps aplenty in the theater after he responds to this – “What like you?” Despite the fact that Doctor Strange’s introduction makes him even more disliked than Tony Stark’s, this movie is stupidly similar to Iron Man, which is arguably the best movie in the MCU. They both have the ‘Character is physically injured and has to repair themselves, the character then obtains superpowers. Later learns to do good with said powers.’
The main character might have some depth to him even if he’s unlikable, to begin with, but once again Marvel has given us another pancake villain, flat and colourless. Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Hannibal) plays Kaecilius, a disillusioned disciple of the ancient one whose grand plan is to bring the inter-dimensional being known as Dormammu to Earth. The movie opens with his forceful attempt at getting some page from some book that’ll do a thing. The reason why I explained that in the blandest way possible, is I and the rest of the audience had no idea what was going on. There is little to no speech in the opening scene making it even more confusing as to what is going on. Mads and his followers walk into a library and kill what we assume is the librarian. Oh no, were we supposed to care? Was that shown to make the audience hate Kaecilius? Then we don’t hear from him for at least another 30 to 40 minutes and even then his intentions aren’t the clearest. It was a bad way to start the movie. When I heard Mads Mikkelsen was being cast as the villain in this movie, I was very, very, very excited. Mikkelsen is a fantastic actor who shone in NBC’s Hannibal as arguably one of the greatest TV villains of all time. But even he couldn’t contort this purple-eyed mess of a villain into a worthy adversary for our hero to battle.
This movie is to be likened to a supermodel – its stunning to look at even if it has no personality at times.
Superhero movies are crying out for a villain like Hans Gruber (Die Hard) or Clarence Bodicker (RoboCop) or Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver). Do you remember Ronan the Accuser? How about Malekith the Accursed? What about Whiplash? Or Abomination? Or Baron Zemo? See what I did there…? I named nearly ever villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Why? because no one remembers them. The villains in the Marvel movies are awful. They have no gravity to them. You can’t just have Loki in every movie. Kaecilius is again another of these generic bad guys who the audience has no idea what their motivations are and don’t want to know because they are so bland. The best villains are the ones you just hate because they’re so evil and are actually interesting. Kaecilius is as bland as if Jeremy Irons had his own cereal brand. Even Dormammu is a giant pixellated head in the sky that can only be described as if you were looking at Andross from the Star Fox video games if you were high on acid. There are so many interesting bad guys that the MCU can use but sadly they haven’t done that in this movie and I’m starting to worry if they ever will.
Doctor Strange is visually stunning. There is no hiding this. This is the first movie in a very long while where I’ve sat down and gone: ‘Wow that’s impressive CGI.’ Audiences have become disillusioned with CGI because it’s just not impressive anymore. A team of designers can now render giant monsters or faceless armies in massive battles. No longer is the work of miniatures models or well time practical effects needed because everything can be done on a computer and it doesn’t wow audiences anymore because moviegoers are so used to it. Doctor Strange though is an exception. The best way to liken this movie is to Inception – with buildings contorting and landscapes changing but Doctor Strange‘s effects are so much more impressive than Nolan’s movie. Marvel know their piece has amazing effects and play to it in their marketing. Rightly so though, as this movie is a visual rollercoaster that needs to be experienced in the cinema. Having action sequences atop shifting and contorting buildings really added tension to fight scenes. The visuals were so impressive that the gentleman sat to my right continually said “wow” or “oh my god” aloud. My only issue was that they used all the city bending effects in the first 10 minutes. If you’re going to have effects to make your audience go wow, then space them out over the course of the movie otherwise the audience will see these opening effects and not care for them again as that’s your entire bag of tricks gone in your first ten minutes.
Mikkelsen is a fantastic actor who shone in Hannibal as arguably one of the greatest TV villains of all time. But even he couldn’t contort this purple-eyed mess of a villain into a worthy adversary for our hero to battle.
Towards the climax, Doctor Strange travels to the Dark Dimension to defeat Dormammu. Rather than punch him in his oversized CGI face, Strange engages him in one of the cleverest and frankly one of the best ways of stopping a villain ever seen in a superhero movie. By using a spell we see Strange learn earlier in the film, he uses it to defeat the bad guy in a clever use of stopping time. That payoff was a thousand times more satisfying to witness than CGI fisticuffs. The Dark Dimension itself is a 1960’s trippy land of bright, colourful bacteria shapes. Rather than spend 5 minutes here and then fly back to Hong Kong after defeating Dormammu, I would have liked the characters to have spent half of the movie there because it’s interesting and different to any location we’ve seen before in the MCU but in our lives as well. This location really highlighted the difference of this movie to all the over MCU films. It’s weird but it’s a good weird. Rather than a boring superhero movie set in New York, it exploits its strangeness (no pun intended) and shows off more visually stunning CGI.
Doctor Strange has all the problems that all the other Marvel movies do. Flat Dialogue, Terribly generic, underdeveloped villains, and too much humour at times. But despite thousands of animators creating visually stunning set pieces, it felt like looking into a Kaleidoscope at times, with its bright colours and trippy set pieces and frankly it was fun. This movie is to be likened to a supermodel – it’s stunning to look at even if it has no personality at times. The movie does feel clean at times. I also like how it goes from the sterile and clean hospital wards of New York to the dirty streets of Kathmandu and to the psychedelic landscape that is the Dark Dimension It’s a nice blend and it works in this movie. It didn’t feel fresh and different like Guardians of the Galaxy did, but it was more ‘wow, look at this, computer animators are making these buildings turn isn’t that great?’ That should have amazed me. And I was at times, but the novelty wore off quick. The main weakness of the movie is that it’s difficult to engage with the story but the visuals make up for it. I’d have to say it’s one of the most visually enjoyable movies of the year.
Once again, Marvel has played it safe in a risky movie. The film will make a lot of money and it will get well reviewed elsewhere. They took a big risk with this film but sadly, they didn’t take as many risks as I would have liked to have seen. It’s fun, it’s flawed and it’s visually stunning. But the wait still goes on for a decent villain that isn’t Loki.
Would I recommend this movie? Yes, despite it’s flaws I’d recommend seeing it in cinemas to appreciate its visuals.