Doctor Strange: A Retrospective

Doctor Strange is a fantasy retelling of Iron Man. Let’s not beat around the bush. Ant-Man is about a nice guy trying to prove that he is good enough, whereas Doctor Strange is about an arrogant, rich guy, who gets busted down to size, and seeks a path to redemption, while on a healing quest. I normally have a problem with effects pictures that rely on heavy CG, but this is a picture in which the draw is the visuals. Not only is this a retelling of the Iron Man story (from a plot perspective), but it is a retelling of the Iron Man character, which only really works because Sherlock Holmes is such a charismatic actor.

Doctor Strange is about a wealthy, elitist, who, tragically, falls from grace and seeks to restore his former glory. Stephen is too talented for his own good, and is incapable of accepting failure. This film’s version of, what I call, the Marvel deviation (the variation on a Marvel origin story) is that while he tries to return to his former flawed, and selfish, self, he sees a world that changes his perception of reality. Doctor Strange went through life seeing only the scientific, but The Ancient One (this movie’s version of Yenzin) shows him that he only thinks he has all the answers. It’s a nice deviation, in that he only coincidently becomes a hero. The other Marvel characters begin their second act rise on a mission to become a hero and redeem themselves, where Doctor Strange just seeks knowledge. It’s an interesting spin, but it is really nothing groundbreaking.

We have seen the scientific, the interplanetary, cosmic and even street level side of the Marvel Universe, but this is our first look at the inter-dimensional aspect. It is weird, but weird can be good. While the other films developed the characters constantly, which I prefer, but this film focuses on world building. It’s a cleverly calculated risk. We can only take so much of the same plot beats, so this one shakes things up by establishing the world, over the characters. Not that the characters aren’t fully developed. We are given a world where reality is malleable, and are treated to anything the mind can imagine, and it’s very reminiscent of 2001.

While I will always be a firm supporter of Tony Stark, I don’t want Marvel to keep rehashing him. Dr. Strange is really not that interesting. His world is, sure, but he is some guy that saw the world was one thing, but found out his knowledge barely scratched the surface. Cumberbatch is a great actor, but he doesn’t have a lot to work with. The most interesting characters are The Ancient One, Baron Mordo, and, shockingly, Kaecilius. Kaecilius is just an attempt to make a villain of the week more interesting than they are, but he is played with class, and his point of view is understandable. Dr. Strange is clearly front and center, but the other characters, at least, have the unique position of not being a retread.

In all honesty, Marvel doesn’t recycle their own formula, because it isn’t their formula to begin with. Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Rocketeer and The Terminator use the exact same formula. Marvel only utilizes the rules established by other classic films. Doctor Strange takes the classic action formula, and adds nothing beyond a realm untapped, in the form of the mystic arts. The visuals are the reason to watch this film, not because they are good, but because they are extremely good. It’s a world that leaves you wanting more in a way Avatar wished it could. The best characters in the film are The Ancient One and Baron Mordo, and I look forward to more Mordo in the future. It may appear that I was indifferent, to harsh on this film, but I actually quite enjoyed it. I just need to address the shortcomings. Seriously, the world it builds is worth a watch on it’s own. Visually it may be the most interesting film, but substantively, it is one of the least interesting, which leaves it somewhere near the middle, but that doesn’t mean the Doctor has no room to grow.

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