Main cast: Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr Stephen Strange), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Karl Mordo), Rachel McAdams (Dr Christine Palmer), Benedict Wong (Wong), Mads Mikkelsen (Kaecilius), and Tilda Swinton (the Ancient One)
Director: Scott Derrickson
That sound you hear is Tom Hiddleston chasing his agent with an axe. He is now the only one of the so-called European Brat Pack-like clique that does not have a solid box-office hit that he headlined in, and with Benedict Cumberbatch finally joining the stable of leading men in superhero movies, Mr Hiddleston has nobody to lord over now. Maybe it is time he starts paying another young hot thing in pop culture to be his tabloid squeeze.
Here is a confession from me: I have never found Benedict Cumberbatch attractive like many people out there do. Depending on the camera angle, he either looks like that creep everyone stays away from in a party, or an unfortunate person with a face that resembles a mushed-up fetus. Still, when he grooms a goatee here and sports some facial hair, he actually looks pretty easy on the eyes, so this movie isn’t an eyesore like I initially feared.
Now, I have always liked Doctor Strange, and I can see why Marvel makes a movie for him, as his abilities and his ties with key villains allow them to bridge the Avengers and the even more fantastical part of their movie universe, like the Guardians of the Galaxy gang, together. But this movie also shows that the Marvel formula is starting to wear thin. The script, by director Scott Derrickson as well as C Robert Cargill, is lazy, flimsy, and has a plot and villain so weak that the whole thing resembles a pretty sideshow attraction rather than a coherent movie.
And, sigh, this is an origins movie. We already have so many of them, just once it’d be nice if a movie jumps straight to the plot and narrate the origins through flashbacks or something later. Keeping close to the comics origin, here we have Dr Stephen Strange as an egotistical jerk – a brilliant neurosurgeon, yes, but an asshole who picks patients that would only enhance his reputation and treats his love interest Dr Christine Palmer in a careless “Come love me and bask in my brilliance, because it’s all about me!” way. She is not amused, naturally.
Then, as he takes peeks at MRI scans while driving, he gets involved in an accident that, fortunately, does not involve any other people. Alas, he now can’t do surgery anymore as the damages to his nerve ends are too extensive to repair. So Strange spends some time being an ass to everyone until he learns that there are people in this place called Kamar-Taj that once helped someone that was supposed to be crippled for life to not only heal but to also walk again and even play basketball. So, he goes off to Kathmandu, where he eventually gains access using the Hollywood way: gets accosted by thugs and is rescued by some bloke from Kamar-Taj, who then brings him to that place. This person is Karl Mordo, and yes, he’s black. In fact, as you will soon see, the Kamar-Taj may be in Nepal, but the main players are all foreign imports. The locals are minor players… well, except for that Chinese librarian, Wong, but we all know that’s because every movie wants to make a lot of money in China, so a token Chinese in the main cast these days is mandatory. So, Kamar-Taj is basically a glorified expatriate club with branches in three other places in the world that matter to these people – New York (of course), London (of course), and Hong Kong (because everyone wants China to feel loved and important now).
Anyway, Strange acts like an asshole, as usual, so the head boss, the Ancient One, reasonably shows him that there is real woo-woo in this world, before having him thrown out. I’d personally just throw him out without the need for all that show-off stuff, but you know how it is: everyone in these movies knows that the best heroes are the asshole ones, even if you will need to spend the whole movie trying to make him see sense and learn the right things. I’d think it’d be easier to just recruit a noble sucker for the job, but that’s why I’m not the Ancient One, in charge of a society dedicated to saving the world from mystical, otherworldly threats by gathering together a small bunch of people who couldn’t even lift a finger against an even smaller group of two-bit players without going oops, dead now. No wonder they need Strange. He’s an American – we all know America always saves the day, even if the American is a loud-mouthed, insensitive douchebag.
So, anyway, Strange joins the Society of Let’s Make Circular Motions with Our Hands and Let CGI Do the Rest, breaks the rules, and whines a lot, but because he’s an American loud-mouthed douchebag, he gets special attention from the Ancient One who senses “great will” emanating from inside him. Strange also breaks the rules and reads up on forbidden stuff, only to be rewarded by the fact that, apparently, he is so smart that he automatically has an affinity for mystic arts. When the big bad starts trashing him, the Cloak of Levitation magically decides to pick him as its new owner and thus begins protecting him. By the time the climax rolls in, Strange gets a major upgrade in abilities mostly because of lucky happenstance or just because. This movie never shows me that he earns his powers, hence there is never any satisfaction to be had in seeing him win.
Oh, and the villain. He’s a forgettable loser who wants to summon Dormammu, joke prince – er, the big bad demony thing from a “place beyond time” whose ambition in life, apparently, is to collect worlds to float around him like they are his personal little planet thingies that he hangs from the ceiling.
In other words, this movie has an ass script, ass villains, an ass Ancient One who is laughably bad at her job, and an ass who gets rewarded for being an asshole with powers beyond belief. The movie culminates with a post-credit scene that sees a character turning into the dark side in a rushed manner that screams WTF, but that’s in line with the rest of the movie – everything feels underdeveloped, underwritten, and underwhelming. And I don’t care about Doctor Strange and his girlfriend, because Marvel superhero movies have a charming track record of ditching the female love interests or relegating them to very minor roles in subsequent sequels and related movies.
Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t doing anything here that he hasn’t done before, but he does his best to emote and give his character some vulnerability. Alas, the dear weird-looking man is fighting an uphill battle. Everything else about this movie is a herd of asses, and the first two-thirds of the movie are draggy and boring. Still, there are some amazing CGIs here that make Doctor Strange look like a live action Minecraft game, to keep one awake through the dire dullness of it all.
If any of you guys want to start a Marvel superhero movie backlash, Doctor Strange will be a great movie to use as an excuse as it is easily the most formulaic and uninspired entry into the genre.