by Miles Barber (CE ’18)
Doctor Strange, the latest superhero film from Marvel is about Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), an arrogant surgeon who crashes his Lamborghini on the way to a conference. When surgery fails to heal his hands, he heads to Tibet in hopes that some Eastern form of healing can do what Western methods could not. He meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who shows him a spiritual world in a psychedelic, world-bending scene of visual beauty. He is also alerted to a spiritual threat about to be unleashed by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former student of The Ancient One. As jumbled and rushed as all of that is in the film, I prefer to start with positives, so let’s talk about how entertaining and visually dazzling this film is.
Right from the start, the Marvel Studios formula is in full effect as we’re introduced to a cocky character, a brisk pace, and a fair amount of humor. The story operates as a mixture of familiar stories, notably those of Ant-Man and Iron Man (who are remarkably similar characters to begin with). It’s a good time with a lot of fun moments and good performances all around—Benedict Cumberbatch seems perfectly cast! I wouldn’t say it’s more fun than Iron Man and Ant-Man, but it was still an entertaining time.
Where this film definitely stands out is in its visual style. As I mentioned before, this film deals in spiritual worlds, which can look like anything. This film capitalizes on those infinite possibilities here by presenting manipulations of our world and entirely new worlds. Both are mind-bending, but the most spectacular was definitely in the “entirely new worlds” parts; these just explode with beautiful neon colors. The standout scene for me in terms of visual effects was definitely towards the beginning of the film, when The Ancient One first shows Strange these worlds for the first time.
The film’s problems lie in its pacing and length. Doctor Strange bears a lot of similarity to Iron Man in terms of its story structure but is almost fifteen minutes shorter. So much of this film is exposition that, given the film’s shorter runtime, compromises the exploration of themes and character-building. Iron Man had a much fuller character transformation at the end of Iron Man than Doctor Strange had at the end of this film, mainly because Doctor Strange just doesn’t have enough time to get into these things.
My favorite scene in the entire film is in a slower moment when a particular character reflects on life and how short time is. The villain’s entire motivations have to do with the shortness of time and mortality. This is an important theme in the film that needed proper exploration! It would have given the story more focus, clarity, and depth. The difference between a decent superhero film and a great one is in how much time it dedicates to character and themes. It’s why I’ve discussed the character conflict behind the entire premise of Captain America: Civil War countless times to different results and never once discussed anything about Iron Man 2 because it just doesn’t have much character conflict.
Overall, Doctor Strange was another fun addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It had a unique visual flair that produced some really standout scenes. But the shorter runtime limited the film’s potential by rushing the story at the expense of character development and exploration of themes. ◊